Implementing A Strengths-Based Approach For Autism

Implementing Strengths-Based Approach For Autism

Implementing A Strengths-Based Approach For Autism

For many years, educational and treatment approaches toward autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have focused on changing behaviors and suppressing what is deemed as “different.” Obsessive interests had to be overcome, eye contact was insisted upon, communication had to fit certain standards, etc. But what if we centered the entire learning experience around the unique strengths of children with autism? Research has shown that this disorder often comes with excellent memory, developed visual thinking, attention to detail, honesty, and other valuable skills. Therefore, using a strengths-based approach for autism is an undoubtedly effective solution to help these kids access their maximum potential. In honor of Autism Awareness Month, we explore 5 tips to implement this approach to support children with autism to become valuable members of our society.

What Is The Strengths-Based Approach?

First, let’s take a look at what “strengths-based approach” refers to. This practice was first theorized by social worker Bertha Reynolds, who believed that the US social work system tended to focus excessively on the flaws of people with mental illnesses and ignore their strengths. The strengths-based approach has been adapted and applied to many different disciplines and contexts, from the service sector to the business world. When utilized for autism, the strengths-based approach can remove the stigma that plagues people on the autistic spectrum and shine a light on their diverse talents and capabilities. By identifying their specialized interests and unique abilities, it can optimize learning and, in many cases, carve a path of professional exploration and development.

5 Tips To Implement A Strengths-Based Approach For Children With Autism

1. Individualized Learning Plans

One-size-fits-all learning is hardly the most effective choice for any student, let alone children in the autism spectrum. What you have to keep in mind is that their unique talents, abilities, and interests need to go hand-in-hand with an individualized learning plan. To achieve that, you must first carefully observe your learners to identify what makes them unique. What are their specialized interests? Which talents do they exhibit? Then, you can find or develop assignments, activities, and projects that align with their preferences, abilities, and learning objectives.

2. Strengths-Based Assessments

Assessments play an important role in how fast learners advance and the type of feedback educators receive. In other words, if you give a child an assessment that isn’t tailored to their abilities, all you will achieve is hurt their self-confidence and get a distorted representation of their abilities. For this reason, you must make sure to design assessments that allow learners to demonstrate their skills in a variety of ways. Instead of relying on a single evaluation technique, embrace flexibility and explore ways to monitor knowledge acquisition through projects, presentations, or hands-on activities.

3. Using Strengths-Based Language And Feedback

A strengths-based approach for autism doesn’t only refer to the teaching methods educators employ. It’s also about the way they talk about their students and the feedback they give them. Words matter, and they can significantly affect learner motivation and performance. For example, instead of highlighting that a learner is nonverbal, focus on their alternative ways of communicating. Similarly, when offering feedback, try not to dwell on what was not achieved, but rather celebrate wins, no matter how small. Frequent positive reinforcement helps to acknowledge learners’ strengths and accomplishments, building their confidence and motivating them to keep trying.

4. Peer Mentoring

Educational institutions often separate learners on the autistic spectrum from their neurotypical classmates, overlooking the benefits that can come from their coexistence. When pairing learners from the two groups together, you encourage kids with autism to practice their skills and learn from their peers in a safe and controlled environment. Apart from that, they advance their socialization skills and self-confidence and develop friendships. Peer mentors can also be specialized professionals who have been trained adequately to implement the strengths-based approach, follow each learner’s personalized learning plan, and provide support as needed.

5. Interest-Based Learning

Perhaps the most important aspect of the strengths-based approach to autism is interest-based learning. Rather than treating a child’s profound interest in cars, shapes, or anything else as an obstacle, view it as an element that you can incorporate into their personalized curriculum. In fact, make it the starting point of learning material development and build activities around it that aim to develop their math, coding, or language skills. This teaching method will undoubtedly be effective in piquing the learner’s interest, encouraging them to pay more attention and actively participate in the learning process.


Leveraging the strengths-based approach for children with autism can empower educators to view their learners with different eyes. When the focus is on a person’s strengths, their self-image improves, and their motivation to try harder increases. As we celebrate another Autism Awareness Month, let us remember the importance of diversity in the classroom and explore ways to support all learners in advancing equally.