Autism: What is The Strength-Based Model?

Autism: What is the Strength-Based Model

The strength-based model was originally introduced by Barry M. Prizant, author of Uniquely Human, as well as one of the developers of the SCERTS model (which is used in schools across the country). 

Traditionally, professionals focus on a deficit model when assessing and diagnosing autism. In other words, they measure what skills the person lacks across an array of developmental domains. 

However, the strength-based model focuses on looking at autism in a more positive way. This includes noting the individual’s strengths and viewing deficits as unique challenges which can be improved. After all, all people have strengths, weaknesses, talents, and interests. 

This is what Barry Prizant said, in his book, about the deficit model.

I have come to believe that this is a flawed understanding – and the wrong approach. Here is my central message: The behavior of people with autism isn’t random, deviant, or bizarre, as many professionals have called it for decades. These children don’t come from Mars. The things they say aren’t – as many professionals still maintain – meaningless or “nonfunctional.”

Autism isn’t an illness. It’s a different way of being human. Children with autism aren’t sick; they are progressing through developmental stages as we all do. To help them, we don’t need to change them or fix them. We need to work to understand them, and then change what we do.

Barry M. Prizant, Unique Human

This perspective about autism spectrum disorder is the foundation of the Parent Education Program that I’ve spent the last six months developing. 

Autism: What is the Strength-Based Model - Looking at Autism through a different lense. #Autism #ASD #AutismSpectrum #AutismParenting #PositiveParenting #SpecialEducation #PositiveParenting #UniquelyHuman

The Core Components of The Strength-Based Model:

  • Every individual with ASD as unique strengths, interests, talents, and areas that challenge them
  • Understanding these strengths, interests, and talents on a person to person basis can help individualize interventions and strategies used to teach new skills and improve areas where challenges exist.
  • Evidence-based practices should be used as the framework of programs for children with autism, practice-based interventions should then be used to build upon that framework individually, creating unique intervention plans.

Note: Evidence-based means there are 10-20 peer-reviewed studies completed. Practice-based means you’ve tried it, and been successful but scientific review hasn’t been completed. (There is not a lot of evidence-based research for occupational therapy, for example however it’s still shown to be effective)

Positive Qualities

Everyone has positive personality traits. Unfortunately, when your child struggles with a lot of day-to-day living tasks it can be easy to become consumed with negative thoughts about those struggles. 

It’s so important to stop and think about all of your child’s positive qualities and their strengths and loving personalities. 

Autism: What is the Strength-Based Model - Looking at Autism through a different lense. #Autism #ASD #AutismSpectrum #AutismParenting #PositiveParenting #SpecialEducation #PositiveParenting #UniquelyHuman

Areas of Challenge

All people have areas of challenge or weaknesses. In children with autism these challenges are typically in any or all of the following areas:

  • Neurological – challenges with language development, social interaction, communication, or repetitive behaviors.
  • Other Differences – Other differences may be noticed in sensory processing, causes (or level) of anxiety, gross or fine motor challenges, unusual patterns of attention.

Fortunately, skills can be taught to improve your child’s areas of challenges. When viewing autism through the strength-based model keep in mind that there are no limitations. People can always learn and improve, no matter how slow, any progress with worth celebrating. 

Language Challenges May Include:

  • Delay in verbal communication or no functional verbal communication system present.
  • Echolalia
  • Large vocabulary in a limited subject area
  • A difficulty with two-way conversation
  • Difficulty following multi-step directions
  • Struggles with abstract language, literal interpretation
  • Struggles to pick up on typical social cues

Social Challenges May Include:

  • Perspective taking
  • Establishing peer relationships
  • Spontaneously seeking the company of others
  • Social/emotional reciprocity
  • Non-verbal communication such as eye contact, facial expression, hand gestures, body language

Motor Challenges May Include:

  • Motor planning or sequencing
  • Balance & coordination
  • Fine and gross motor areas affected
  • Adaptive skills

Notable Behaviors May Include:

  • Extremely passionate about interests
  • Inflexible adherence to routines
  • Repetitive motor mannerisms (“stimming”)
  • Preoccupation with parts of objects
  • Unusual response to sensory input
  • Challenging behaviors such as aggression

Unusual Patterns of Attention, Such As:

  • Overly focused on details of interest
  • Difficulty with joint attention
  • Difficulty shifting attention
  • Can have a short attention span when things aren’t interesting
  • Influenced by sensory needs – needs must be met before a child can pay attention

Sensory Characteristics 

Can be hypersensitive or hyposensitive to any sensory input:

  • Tactile – Averse to or sought after certain textures
  • Auditory – Sensitive to or unresponsive to sounds
  • Visual – Distracted by visual stimuli or seeking stimuli
  • Olfactory & Gustatory – strong preference to certain tastes and smells, or intense aversions
  • Vestibular  – Movement differences
  • Proprioceptive (body awareness) and Interoceptive (internal feelings & emotional state)

Sensory characteristics can vary significantly from person-to-person and are explained in more depth in my Parent Education Program


Module 1 at Autism Parenting Help Academy is available for free, all you have to do is create an account. 

The other five training modules are premium content. However, you can subscribe and complete the first unit of each module for free. Each module serves as a building block for developing important skills and parenting strategies – based on the strength-based model outlined here. 

Also, each module builds on the skills taught in the previous unit.

All information found in the training modules is evidence-based and used by schools, clinicians, and other professionals. However, those strategies have been adapted for parents to easily apply to their day-to-day life. The goal is to educate parents, creating a positive mindset that will help children thrive. 

Autism: What is the Strength-Based Model - Looking at Autism through a different lense. #Autism #ASD #AutismSpectrum #AutismParenting #PositiveParenting #SpecialEducation #PositiveParenting #UniquelyHuman

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