Reshaping the Narrative About Autism

The primary description a father or mother will usually hear once they be taught their baby is autistic is that the kid has “persistent deficits in social communication and interplay throughout a number of contexts together with deficits in reciprocity, nonverbal communication, and creating, sustaining, and understanding relationships.” That is usually the primary sentence of most revealed analysis articles about autism.

Autism’s definition is predicated on deficit-based language. Descriptions hardly ever embody the truth that autism is related to the power to type robust attachments with caregivers and pals and that many youngsters on the autism spectrum take pleasure in bodily play and different social actions. Our diagnostic handbook equally fails to say that autism usually is related to the power to be taught to learn at an early age, memorize information, and pay distinctive consideration to element, amongst different expertise. If such strengths—or “property” are talked about—they’re talked about after the “core deficits” related to autism are described. What’s the influence of this deficit-focused narrative on our idea of autism and the way autistic individuals are perceived and handled?

Trabian Shorters coined the time period “asset-framing” as a story that defines folks by their property earlier than describing their challenges and impairments. Asset framing shouldn’t be meant to reduce challenges and difficulties skilled by folks, however moderately to alter our mindset to emphasise the constructive potential and aspirations of an individual earlier than contemplating their difficulties. Some difficulties related to autism—reminiscent of challenges in navigating the social world—are the flip aspect of a power, reminiscent of distinctive ability in understanding the bodily world. Equally, difficulties adjusting one’s conduct in response to a different is the flip aspect of being non-manipulative, simple, and trustworthy.

Focusing first or solely on deficits is related to stigma and tends to decrease our capability to see a person’s capabilities and constructive attributes. As Shorters factors out, it’s because the associative thoughts readily seeks info that’s in keeping with the narrative that we’ve got created and tends to disregard or decrease info that’s inconsistent with that narrative. As soon as a adverse narrative is fashioned, the associative thoughts mechanically and unconsciously seeks out information that confirms that standpoint and pays much less consideration to information that disconfirms it. Shorters has been making use of asset-framing to assist reshape the narrative that defines folks of coloration and different stigmatized teams. He notes that nonprofit organizations usually outline their missions based mostly on deficit-based language, undermining a constructive message of hope and aspiration. For instance, a nonprofit may try to assist “at-risk” youth. Utilizing the body of being “in danger” mechanically creates associations with adverse outcomes. Utilizing a phrase reminiscent of “addressing obstacles to fulfilling one’s potential” creates a distinct set of associations, ones stuffed with optimism and constructive expectations. Importantly, this shift in framing doesn’t decrease challenges or recommend that assist and assist will not be wanted. Fairly, it expands our creativeness to anticipate broader and extra constructive outcomes.

We will harness the facility of asset-framing by defining autistic folks by their strengths and contributions earlier than describing their challenges and impairments. This cognitive ability primes the thoughts to search for constructive associations in addition to reframes how we perceive and choose the difficult behaviors displayed by an autistic individual. For instance, when an autistic baby has a meltdown when requested to do one thing exterior of their traditional routine, a deficit mannequin would view this conduct as confirming autism’s diagnostic definition of getting “rigid adherence to routines.” Nonetheless, if we first think about {that a} power of autistic folks is that they thrive on order and routine, we’re more likely to perceive that the kid seemingly will probably be happier if we give advance discover of any change in routine. We’d select to speak this by utilizing the autistic baby’s power in visible processing and creating an image schedule. We’re additionally extra more likely to discover that the autistic baby excels at following guidelines and is an efficient function mannequin for different youngsters within the class.

I just lately talked with a colleague about their autism analysis on face recognition. Quite a few revealed research have discovered that autistic folks usually have extra issue recognizing acquainted faces than non-autistic folks. Autistic folks are inclined to give attention to the person parts of the face, whereas non-autistic folks have a tendency to make use of a extra holistic method which facilitates face recognition. These research usually report that poorer face recognition skills are correlated with extra important difficulties interacting with folks.

Now let’s think about this space of analysis from an asset-framing standpoint. As I discussed, autistic folks are inclined to focusmore on particular person options of the face. Curiously, when this distinctive visible processing technique is utilized in different contexts, reminiscent of fixing visible puzzles, autistic individuals are superior to non-autistic folks. For instance, autistic folks have a tendency to attain extraordinarily excessive on the block design process, a visual-spatial process that’s a part of most IQ exams. As early as 9 months of age, infants who’re later identified with autism have been discovered to have superior visible search expertise. Thus, the distinctive visible processing expertise of autistic individuals are advantageous in sure contexts, and actually, assist clarify why some autistic folks do nicely in fields reminiscent of math and engineering. As soon as once more, what’s considered as a deficit is commonly the flip aspect of a power.

This strengths-based method is at the moment getting used to develop group packages designed to assist autistic adolescents in creating pursuits and expertise in science, expertise, engineering, arts, and arithmetic. A latest research discovered a strength-based group program had a constructive influence on adolescents’ well being and well-being, social relationships and interactions, self-confidence and shallowness, sense of belonging, and actions and participation.

How we describe folks is essential as a result of our phrases type a robust narrative that may both develop or decrease our expectations and beliefs about an individual’s potential skills, aspirations, and contributions to society. Let’s change the narrative about autism by making use of asset-framing in our conversations, publications, and different settings, defining autistic folks by their strengths earlier than describing their challenges and difficulties.