ASA's 37th National Conference on Autism Spectrum Disorders (July 13-15, 2006)

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Thursday, July 13, 2006: 3:15 PM-4:30 PM
Narragansett Ballroom B
#1779- FOSTERING RESILIENCE, OPTIMISM, AND OTHER CHARACTER STRENGTHS: APPLYING POSTITIVE PSYCHOLOGY TO AUTISM
This presentation will describe positive psychology and its application to a population with autism and its relationship to quality of life. Participants to the session will: (1) Focus on resilience, optimism, self-efficacy and kindness as examples of the traits subsumed under positive psychology. (2) Be able to define positive psychology and understand the theoretical principles underlying this field. (3) Review an assessment scale for positive traits. (4) Have a demonstration of procedures to foster these traits.

Presenters:June Groden, PhD, The Groden Center, Executive Director - June Groden holds a Ph.D. and M.A. degree in psychology, a M.Ed., and a B.A. in business administration. Since 1976, Dr. Groden has been Director of the Groden Center in Providence, Rhode Island, an educational and treatment facility which serves children and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. Dr. Groden serves on the clinical faculty at the University of Rhode Island, and is a visiting research associate at the Center for the Study of Human Development at Brown University. Dr. Groden has adapted stress reduction procedures such as relaxation and imagery-based picture rehearsal for special populations.

Cooper Woodard, PhD, The Groden Center, Clinical Director - Cooper Woodard, PhD received his MA degree from Wake Forest University, and his PhD from Fielding Graduate Institute. He worked as the psychologist providing support services for Voca in Charlotte, NC, and became familiar with applied behavioral techniques. After completing his clinical internship and doctoral degree in 2001, Dr. Woodard moved to Providence, RI, where he is the Clinical Director for The Groden Center. His research interests include the effects of dextromethorphan in persons with autism, as well as the role and application of positive psychology principles in this and other populations.

Jeffrey Jardin, MEd, The Groden Center, Clinical Program Supervisor - Jeffrey Jardin, M.Ed., attended Dartmouth College where he received his bachelorís degree in 1997. Since that time, he has attained his RI teaching certifications in Elementary Education and Elementary / Middle Special Education, as well as his M.Ed. in Special Education from Providence College. He began working at the Groden Center in the fall of 1997 as a Treatment Coordinator and went on to become a Special Education Coordinator in the fall of 2000. Currently, Jeffrey is the Clinical Program Supervisor of the Livingston Center, the Groden Centerís integrated preschool program.

Amy Rice, B.A., The Groden Center, Clinical Program Supervisor - Amy Rice graduated from Wheelock College in Boston, Massachusetts in 1995 with a dual degree in Child Development and Literature. She is currently enrolled in graduate school at Bridgewater State University pursuing a Masterís Degree in Education. Her professional work with children includes serving as a Child Life Specialist at Childrenís Hospital in Boston, and as a juvenile probation officer in Douglas, Arizona. She served as Residential Supervisor of the Boston Higashi School from 1999-2001. She is currently a Clinical Unit Supervisor at The Groden Center day program in Providence, RI.

Ayelet Kantor, PhD, The Groden Center, Research Associate - Ayelet Kantor holds a B.Sc. in Nutrition Science, and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. Her postgraduate studies were done in Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel, in the area of brain development. Dr. Kantor worked in the autism field as an educator in the early intervention program, as a private consultant, and as a supervisor and coordinator of professional teams. She developed curriculum on alternative medical and nutritional interventions in autism at Stanford University Medical School, California. Currently Dr. Kantor is a research associate at the Groden Center.

 
Fostering positive character traits such as resilience, optimism, kindness, and self-efficacy are part of a body of literature in the field of positive psychology, which has been applied to typically developing children and adults. Although this is a growing field, there is little in the literature to show its application to autism or developmental disabilities. Positive psychology is about living a quality life by maintaining psychological health and well-being, and hope for the future.

This presentation will focus on the field of positive psychology and demonstrate how these concepts can be applied to and useful for a population with autism and its relationship to quality of life. Participants to the session will:

(1) Be able to define positive psychology and understand the theoretical principles underlying this field.

(2) Focus on resilience, optimism, self-efficacy and kindness as examples of the traits subsumed under positive psychology.

(3) Review an Assessment Scale for Positive Psychological Traits in Autism and Developmental Disabilities.

(4) Have a demonstration of procedures in the fields of positive psychology to foster these traits in persons with autism and developmental disabilities.

What is positive psychology?

Positive psychology is an area that addresses quality of life by maintaining psychological health and emotional well-being, preventing the damaging effects of negative events, and maintaining hope for the future. Seligman, Steen, Park, and Peterson (2005) define positive psychology as ďan umbrella term for the study of positive emotions, positive character traits, and enabling institutionsĒ. With its roots found in growth-oriented works of Rogers, Maslow, and Erikson, positive psychology is about what is healthy and strength-oriented within people, and how these elements help us not only to cope more effectively, but flourish and grow stronger in a world of challenges. Positive psychology functions from a strength-based foundation, where the primary focus is on augmenting positive emotional states.

Positive psychology is an area that has been evolving and expanding for the past 15 years, and has brought together a vast array of literature and research topics. Researchers and other supporters of positive psychology have earned section status within the American Psychological Association's (APA) Division 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology), and have generated enough research to merit a comprehensive handbook (Snyder & Lopez, 2002). Further, in 2000, the American Psychologist devoted a special issue to positive psychology, introducing readers to various topics and a potentially different way of thinking about pathology and wellness. The movement begins a change in the focus of psychology from preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life to also building positive qualities. Fostering positive character traits such as resilience, optimism and self-efficacy are part of this growing body of literature, as such character strengths promote subjective happiness and assist with general coping strategies. By introducing participants in this presentation to positive psychology opportunities, we hope to elicit the development of new interventions, new technology, and a new perspective.

Assessment and Interventions to Foster Positive Psychology Traits

As part of the process of creating strength-based programming, the Assessment Scale for Positive Character Traits for Developmental Disabilities (ASPeCT-DD) was developed. This scale has a representative factor structure for the identified character strengths, and will be discussed as a useful tool for persons with autism and developmental disabilities. Following discussion of the development of this instrument, a number of examples of procedures will be presented to foster optimism, resilience, kindness and self-efficacy.

These procedures include: positive assertions, picture rehearsal, journaling, video-modeling, and dramatic play and can be used in the classroom, home and the community. Guidelines for teachers, parents and other caregivers will be presented.

In summary, this presentation will focus on adding a new dimension to the field of autism by focusing on positive psychology, a field that shifts from a deficit model to building life skills such as optimism, resilience, empathy, kindness, self-esteem. Thinking in these areas has the potential to open up new areas of research and program development and develop a higher quality of life for persons with autism and developmental disabilities.

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