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Autism Strengths-Based Perspective


A strengths-based approach to autism brings people together

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) includes differences in an individual’s communication, social interaction, and patterns of behavior. For more information about the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder see our previous post. We also have a recent post that describes common myths and misconceptions about autism spectrum disorder, as well as facts. An individual is born with autism. Differences occur along a “spectrum”, meaning that the way differences present can vary greatly from person to person. These differences likely reflect a combination of genes and environmental factors. Researchers continue to learn more about differences related to autism spectrum disorder. 


Since ASD occurs along a spectrum, differences in communication, social interactions, and patterns of behavior will be uniquely present in each person. To receive a diagnosis of ASD, differences must be present within two different categories: 1) communication and social skills and 2) restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. 


Historically, the manual (the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fifth Edition-Text Revision [DSM-5-TR]), with criteria that need to be met for any mental health diagnosis, such as ASD, has taken a “medical” approach. This approach highlights deficits and criteria focus on actions that are not occurring (e.g., “abnormal social approach” or “failure of back-and-forth communications”). I recently came across a more strengths-based view of ASD, with the current diagnostic criteria for ASD in mind. This strengths-based ASD diagnostic criteria was created by Matt Lowry, LPP (click to learn more about Matt through his website), and it tends to focus on differences (NOT deficits). 


Strengths-Based Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnostic Criteria 


An individual must have persistent differences in the areas described below: 


  1. Different social communication and interaction as evidenced by all of the following:

  2. Differences in communication – a tendency to go off on tangents in conversations, talk passionately about special interests, and not engage in “small talk”

  3. Differences in nonverbal communication – a tendency to look at something else while talking, taking actions while communicating (stimming), and sitting still while having a conversation

  4. Due to the differences listed above (and many, many others not listed), autistic individuals tend to be shunned by neurotypical individuals and therefore are conditioned to believe that they are somehow less social 


  1. Repetitive behavior or interests as evidenced by at least two of the following:

  2. Stimming (stimming behavior can include rocking, hand-flapping, etc. Autistic individuals engage in stimming to help manage their emotions or block out overwhelming sensations) or engaging in echolalia (repeating words or phrases)

  3. Feeling secure in routines – Autistic individuals do not have a sensory filter, so the world is perceived as a constant state of chaos. Routines and expectations give an autistic individual comfort

  4. Special interests (Matt refers to these as SPINS)  – Autistic individuals feel more passionately about what they love, so when they have a special interest, they can fixate on it

  5. Hyper- or hyporeactivity to stimuli – Autistic individuals feel things (e.g., like textures or the brightness of lights) more intensely. Other times, autistic individuals may feel things less intensely because they may tune them out


Autistic individuals are born with these differences, but can learn how to mask (e.g., hide or disguise) them. Sometimes, differences show up more prominently when someone is stressed or lets their guard down.

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