Autism Occupational Therapy
Resource Toolkit

Recognizing Challenges & Leveraging Strengths

What Does Using a Strengths-Based Approach Mean?

For years, I internalized the message that this was all my fault and it was on me to “fix” it so I can function like I felt like I should. And now, I can see, this is who I am. It comes with many challenges, and also, a unique experience that I have somehow also been able to find beauty and joy in, even before I had the language of what was actually going on.” – Morgan Harper Nichols

Traditionally, OT approaches have focused on deficits and/or challenges, particularly within the autistic community. Many OT interventions have focused on ‘fixing’ deficits with limited focus on strengths. There is a call to occupational therapists to shift their practice to support individuals to use their strengths and interests to build and engage in meaningul occupations.

This section contains resources that describe a strength-based approach to practice and why it is important to address challenges and yet champion strengths. 

What is a Strengths-Based Practice?

Dr. Kristie Patten discusses how professionals can shift to using strength-based models in their practice while recognizing how neurotypical biases can get in the way.

Dr. Kristie Patten discusses how we can use a strengths based approach when working with autistic children and youth.

This paper discusses how important it is for occupational therapy practitioners (OTPs) to adopt neurodiversity-affirming practices to best support autistic people throughout the lifespan. 

A lived experience account by autistic advocate, Morgan Harper Nichols describing her journey and experience in getting her autism diagnosis

Discussion on how we can change social and employment disadvantges experienced by people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by harnessing their strengths and advantages.

This report looks at a variety of medical and social- behavioural therapies and services, and whether they benefit people with autism.

A lived experience account by an autistic advocate describes the importance of using strengths-based approaches to support autistic individuals. 

Terminology and Concepts - Shifting Your Language to Use a More Strengths-Based Approach

Autistic advocate Maddy Dever and Developmental Paediatrician, Dr. Melanie Penner discuss autism acceptance rather than autism awareness. They discuss the importance of language when talking about autism and autistic people.

This article describes how ableism influences the way autism is often described and provides strategies for avoiding ableist language in our work.

This document highlights the importance of shifting our language from deficit based to strengths based and provides examples of preferred language and terms.

Family Centred Practice

A video by autistic people for parents and caregivers highlighting key considerations when looking for a therapist for their child.

This resource from CanChild describes Family Centred Services and its benefits. CanChild conducted an Ontario-wide survey of family centred services for families of children with developmental disabilities and their families. Based on the survey findings, CanChild presents what an ‘ideal’ family-centred service organization should look like to guide health care professionals and organizations.

Article by Dr. Barry Prizant discussing the importance of family centred care when working with children with autism. He describes key concepts and strategies to develop a family centred approach.

Suggest a resource