With a little extra time on my hands I thought I would do a review of some really useful information shared by other professionals that I work with in Community Paediatrics as well as my own knowledge with a focus on resilience. Resilience is an important characteristic for all our young people but in particular our young people with ASC (Autism Spectrum Conditions) who on a daily basis battle not only with their own difficulties but also those enforced upon them by being made to “fit in” to the rules and expectations of a neurotypical world.
My hope and that of the professionals I work with would be that young people with ASC are supported to do more than just “get by”, “survive” or “camouflage” whilst in School or at home and are actually facilitated to thrive and accept their neurodiversity with all its wonder and challenges. Dori Zener (Toronto, “Helping Autistic Women thrive”) considers thriving with Autism as “living a meaningful life consisting of pursuing passions, finding their tribe and accepting their differences”. She notes that self knowledge empowers a client to identify and advocate for their needs. Recognising that focus must shift from “what is expected of me in this situation?” to “what do I want and need?”. Educating family, friends and co-workers enables supportive relationships and empowerment comes from building boundaries and habits that keep them healthy and by recognising the optimal people and environments that support their overall wellbeing.
Dori succinctly talks through her therapeutic approach which is neurodiversity and strengths based. The clinical framework she uses is INVEST and is based on the belief that the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioural features are regarded as part of normal variation in the human population. We respect the neurodiverse differences and do not aim to change. We must constantly remind ourselves and the families we meet of this. Dori focusses on emphasising the individual’s strengths and resilience. The overall goal is for the individual to value themselves and learn how to thrive in a world that was not designed with them in mind. Firstly the Individuals needs and wishes must be indentified (In)vest. During the information gathering stage strengths and coping strategies should be highlighted and past challenges explored to begin forming a narrative of resilience. Sessions should be tailored to the individual’s preferred learning style. Visual mind mapping exercises can be used to help establish the goals to be achieved. Next is Validation (Invest) and Dori notes it is important to acknowledge the stress and cumulative exhaustion the individual may be feeling and for me also it is important to highlight to the individual they no longer need to hide their differences. This will also help individuals feel more in control of their environments and their emotions. Education is a massive part of this process (Invest) with the aim of expanding self-awareness for the individuals and empowering them better to advocate for their needs. Identifying feelings and staying safe are particularly important aspects of this for me to ensure in the longer term our young people are entering into healthy relationships and we are safeguarding them against victimisation as best we can. Family members, friends and partners also benefit from this psycho-education. Strength (Invest) in terms of strengthening distress tolerance to help the individual feel grounded and return to a level of manageable coping and preventing self harm etc is also vitally important. Sensory strategies and mindfulness are helpful for a calming toolkit, which the individual can make for themselves with support. Strengthening relationships is also part of this process to reduce isolation, help the individual exit unhealthy relationships and establishing new ones and helping the individual find their tribe in life. These all lead to the aim of thriving (Invest) .
I feel this strengths based model is a wonderful foundation for our intervention work and also as a guide for Parents and young people themselves on what strategies can help build resilience and enable them to thrive.
Dori’s full article is available at www.emeraldinsight.com
On the topic of resilience I would also like to recommend Dr Pooky Knightsmith’s Cards Against Anxiety which include 25 pocket sized mindfulness cards and guidebook which are beautifully presented and really easy to use. Her book Can I tell you about Self-Harm? is also really helpful for young people and families and several of my teenagers in clinic have found it beneficial citing it explained they weren’t “mad” for cutting and helped them put into words to their Parents and friends why they do it. For young adults I like Mindfulness A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. To support Parent’s in their role I have found The real experts edited by Michelle Sutton as invaluable, this book includes articles written by Autistic people and Autistic Parents and is incredibly insightful, with lots of learning points and knowledge for us all. These books call all be purchased off amazon.
Take care everyone and stay safe