Strength-based paradigms offer a unique way of approaching disability through a focus on strengths, rather than problems (Saleebey, 1992; Seligman, 2000). Important intervention information can be found by identifying successful adaptations and using the skills involved to produce better outcomes (see Seligman, 2000). Strength-based approaches emphasize empowerment, collaboration and “voice” (Brun & Rapp, 2001 ). These principles are central to this research project.
Objectives: The aim of this study was to determine, using a strengths-based/positive psychology lens, how people with high-functioning ASD defined “the good life”, a concept popularized by Seligman (2000) and found to be instrumental in achieving positive life outcomes. Further, respondents were asked what they viewed as barriers or supports in achieving it, how they cope with the problems they encounter, and what they see as solutions to overcoming obstacles.
Methods: The primary method used in the research was in-depth interviews of 11 adults with high functioning ASD where the above stated objectives were explored. The interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Interviews were analyzed to identify common themes and implications for improved support.
Results: The participants generally described “the good life” as attaining the goals that neurotypical individuals take for granted. For example, having meaningful adequately-paid work was a primary theme. Other goals included living independently, having satisfactory relationships, being able to spend time on their hobbies and interests, and being accepted as differently-abled rather than disabled. Participants reported that lack of awareness and knowledge about autism results in policy and service barriers, which in turn lead to unrealistic expectations for people with high functioning ASD, and less than satisfactory outcomes.
Conclusions: There is a need for increased education and awareness about autism spectrum disorders in the wider community, especially in educational systems, in workplaces, and in agencies that help people with “disabilities”. Improved understanding of autism is a necessary precursor to the development of policy and services that better reflect the needs of people with high functioning ASD. Better outcomes and an improved quality of life for people on the autism spectrum can only be achieved if the voices of people with ASD are heard with regard to their experiences and needs. Results of this study will be discussed in terms of the specific implications for individual supports and policies that participants identified.
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