I recently ran across this quote reviewing data from employment thinktank: “Schools use a ‘deficit model.’ I know what is wrong with me, but not what I’m good at.”
It was a wake-up call. Finding a weakness in others is easy, and of course, we are looking to help people improve the quality of their life by pointing out challenges. However, I realized there are at least two problems with this emphasis.
- We are teaching people, especially those with disabilities including Autism spectrum disorder, that they are deficient. Implied or directly stated in this attitude is that improvement is needed in order to be “normal.”
I have always hated the term “normal”. Who is to say what is normal? What word should we use? Should we avoid labels altogether? We’d love a discussion about that.
We all have different gifts and different challenges. Our differences allow us to work together to create wonderful things.
- In order to work through challenges, we use our strengths.
Some of you will point out in many documents, interviews, etc. strengths are included, such as a “compliment sandwich”, or a section of an Individualized Education Plan. However, I have rarely seen these strengths emphasized in a way that is helpful for one’s progress. Teachers/adults/employers may be aware and utilize these strengths but the individual is often only told what to improve and not how to use their strengths to be more successful.
In summary: Differences are not necessarily deficiencies. It is important to find the strengths within the challenges they face. Moving forward, I intend to focus much more on how my client’s strengths can keep them moving forward, rather than the challenges holding them back.
Rebecca J. Weaver is a Certified Autism Specialist at Independent with Autism, working to empower individuals with ASD. Need help creating your success strategies? Check out IndependentwithAutism.com for more information.