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An Excerpt from Upcoming Publication, 'The Reflective Journey'

Updated: Nov 12, 2018

Available for purchase from January 2019, 'The Reflective Journey' is a practitioner guide to the low arousal approach and reflective practice. The following excerpt is from the chapter titled 'Positive Psychology'

The Emergence of Positive Psychology

There is an emerging influence of positive psychology within the field of autism and behavioural supports, which is currently at quite an early stage of development. Analysing the impact of positive interactions can be an extremely powerful tool.

The modern use of the term positive psychology emerged from the growing literature on wellbeing and happiness. A focus on strengths rather than deficits is the basis of the approach. Seligman and Csikzentmihayli (2000) argued that the ‘old’ psychological thinking was mostly focused on negative characteristics:

"It concentrates on repairing damage within a ‘disease model’ of human functioning. This almost exclusive attention to pathology neglects the fulfilled individual and the thriving community. The aim of positive psychology is to begin to catalyse a change in the focus of psychology from preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life to also building positive qualities” (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, 2000, p.5).

A good working definition of positive psychology was proposed by the Irish Psychologist Alan Carr:

"Positive psychology is concerned with the pleasant life, the engaged life and the meaningful life" (Carr, 2011, p.2).

In terms of behaviours of concern, this may represent a stronger focus on skill acquisition and building resilience through developing better coping strategies for people with autism and their supporters. This approach entails a more holistic overview of the person rather than focusing on a collection of behaviours that require ‘fixing’ or ‘repairing’. Such a holistic view inherently considers the interaction of the person with their environment and accepts that other people, including staff and carers, are part of that environment.

In education research, there has been an emphasis on the development of resilience-based programmes to target primarily childhood mental health issues, including depression (Seligman et al., 2009; Norrish et al., 2013). The authors can find little research however that includes children with autism. Notwithstanding the current paucity of research, the potential usefulness of Positive Psychology in supporting autistic children and young people has been embraced by some authors. In the last six years, Groden et al (2011) published a book dedicated to this approach that explores the use of Positive Psychology informed strategies to build resilience, increase optimism and self-efficacy (among other areas of functioning).

The authors contend that there are many potential areas of application for positive psychological thinking to behaviour supports. These areas could include focusing on understanding individuals with autism who appear to manage their own behaviour, and a placing greater emphasis on resilience. There is a clear need for the development of what has been loosely described as positive psychological techniques for supporting children with autism. One key implication of adopting a positive psychology approach could be in the way behaviours of concern are recorded. Carers or supporters are often expected to record incidents. This can be a negative process where there is a strong emphasis on risk and reactive behaviours. A focus on positive recording of data (what has gone well, and why that might have been) rather than an overemphasis on recording negative behaviours can be achieved by using the same recording systems, but intermittently targeting positive behaviours. Monitoring positive emotions such as moments of happiness, or positive interactions may help to enhance interventions.

The full book will be available to purchase from the Studio 3 website in January!


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