World Autism Awareness Day is observed every April 2nd to increase awareness and spread understanding of autism. The aim is to improve the quality of life of people with autism. In honor of this day, we’re going to talk about the salutogenic perspective and how you can use this orientation to help autistic children thrive.
Improve Outcomes for Autistic Children Through the Salutogenic Approach
There are a tremendous number of strategies for working with Autism, and pathways to encourage a more optimal life it those affected by Autism. Arizona Trauma Institute suggests that working with Autistic children from a Salutogenic perspective will greatly enhance the desirable outcomes. One of the basic underpinnings of the Salutogenic approach is to focus on the Sense of Coherence or SOC of the client. Increases in Coherence will enhance all other strategies used as either skill building, practicing, or implementing increasingly more optimal responses.
A Sense of Coherence is an individual child’s worldview.
It is the lens through which the child views the world. The SOC has to do with their lived experience (self-environment interactions) with both internal and external stimuli and stressors. Three elements are thought to contribute to the sense of coherence: Comprehensible, Manageable & Meaningful (Eriksson, M., & Mittelmark, 2017).
COMPREHENSIBLE refers to the extent to which self-environment interactions are predictable, structured, and explicable. Anyone that has worked with Autistic children will realize that having the world make sense, be predictable, and structured are incredibly important factors. When those working with these children ignore or undervalue their importance disruptions occur.
MANAGEABLE is possessing the resources necessary to meet the demands of these stimuli and stressors. The feel of safety (structure and routine) is how the environment is manageable and asks us to think about the factors that will stabilize the environment and add that feeling of safety.
MEANINGFUL speaks to the demands being put on the child with autism, being challenges that are worthy of engagement and coping. Meaningfulness is often a frustrating concept for those working with Autistic children or adults. Children are expected to adopt the meaning embedded in systems such as schools, workplaces, and communities. However, a person with autism typically has difficulty conforming to meanings that are not their own. This disconnect in meaning is a struggle for both the child with Autism and the system.
When working with children with autism it doesn’t help to have an expectation of acquiescence and compliance. Systems need to have the flexibility to understand the Autistic person’s sense of coherence and apply adaptability and inclusion to enhance positive outcomes.
The Salutogenic Orientation calls for the person interacting with the child or adult with autism to challenge their own viewpoint.
A salutogenic approach follows a progressive model, which is fundamentally what must be achieved with an autistic child. The salutogenic approach includes working on inclusion, diversity, and building upon the strengths of children with autism and their families. The concept of salutogenesis helps people look at autism from a different orientation rather than pathology or deficit-based viewpoints. Instead, it focuses on what is going well in people’s lives and how they can build upon those strengths rather than focusing on the challenges. The Salutogenic progressive pattern is comprised of these activities:
2) Capacity building.
- Strengthening interpersonal resources
- Strengthening personal resilience and resources
3) Meeting primary social/emotional needs in a way acceptable to the autistic child’s worldview.
- Decreasing unmet needs in ways that fit the sense of coherence of the autistic child.
- Increasing avenues to meet needs in ways that fit the sense of coherence of the autistic child.
4) Increasing autonomy and choice.
5) Development of a long-term view of positive expectations.
Writing by Dr. Robert Rhoton, graphics by Krista Bennett, TRLC
Eriksson, M., & Mittelmark, M. B. (2017). The sense of coherence and its measurement 12. The handbook of salutogenesis, 97