The Autism Society Event and Education Recordings Archive

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5800 How to Make Your Child or Adult More Resilient and Optimistic

Friday, July 8, 2011: 11:00 AM-12:15 PM
Sun C (Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center)

This presentation begins by discussing the importance of building positive character traits such as resilience and optimism, how these traits are developed, and what factors might foster or impede their development. This discussion will be followed by specific examples of programs and processes aimed at teaching these areas of strength to persons with autism and other developmental disabilities. Optimism:

A general definition of optimism is: an expectation for the future that good things/outcomes will happen. It is closely related to 'hope.'  Martin Seligman, author of The Optimistic Child, describes optimism as follows: “The basis of optimism does not lie in positive phrases or images of victory, but in the way you think about causes. Each of us has habits of thinking about causes, a personality trait I call ‘explanatory style’. Explanatory style develops in childhood, and without explicit intervention is lifelong. There are three crucial dimensions that your child always uses to explain why any particular good or bad event happens to him: permanence, pervasiveness, and personalization.” Optimistic people show less distress in difficult situations, and the same people report higher levels of general well-being. Also, the coping strategies of optimists differ significantly from pessimists, in that optimists use problem-solving, humor, positive re-framing, and acceptance when the situation is unavoidable or unchangeable.  We will present an example of how explanatory style can be altered using imagery or picture rehearsal techniques. The discussion will be followed by "how to" examples to develop optimism.


Resilience is “The process of, capacity for, or outcome of successful adaptation, despite challenging or threatening circumstances" (Masten & Reed, 2002). The resilient child deals more effectively with stress and pressure, responds effectively to challenges, "bounces back" from adversity and trauma, achieve better academically and socially, and suffers less from low self-esteem, hopelessness, depression and anxiety (Brooks & Goldstein, 2001). Fostering resilience in children with autism is extremely important. Many of the skills and the coping strategies that are used by typical children are not as easily accessible for them due to their cognitive and communication skills. Furthermore, factors that are usually regarded as protective may create further risk in this population (Bellini, 2004; Bouma & Schweitzer, 1990; Lewis, 1999). Resilience is a capability that can be fostered by intervention. In the presentation we describe the framework for resilience with children with autism. We strive to empower these children, and help them to become resilient, by nurturing their own adaptation system. Our intervention is aimed towards increasing self-esteem, internal locus of control/ proactive orientation, self regulation and connectedness and attachment. An example of fostering resilience by building “islands of competence” will be demonstrated through a photography project “my own world”. Examples of fostering reliance will be presented.

Learning Objectives:

  • To understand the traits of optimism and resilience as they relate to autism
  • To understand how to foster optimism and resilience in individuals

Content Area: Education


June Groden, Ph.D.
Founder, Director of Research and Program Development, Psychologist
The Groden Network

Dr. June Groden is co-founder of the Groden Center in Providence, Rhode Island, an educational and treatment facility that serves children and adults with ASD and other developmental disabilities. She has been actively involved in numerous programs for people with ASD, developmental disabilities and other behavioral problems.

Ayelet Kantor, Ph.D.
Research Associate
The Groden Center

Dr. Ayelet Kantor, Research Associate at the Groden Center, holds a B.Sc. in Nutrition Science, and a Ph.D. in biochemistry. Her main focus is in developing, educating, monitoring and publishing programs that foster aspects of positive psychology in individuals with autism and their families.

Cooper Woodard, Ph.D., BCBA
Vice President of Clinical Services and Training
The Groden Center

Dr. Cooper Woodard is a clinical psychologist and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Dr. Woodard has published multiple works in the area of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including positive trait development, new research on sensory sensitivity and treatments for infants with ASD.