Professionals’ Perspective on Using a New Strengths and Interests-Based Intervention Model with Autistic Children and Adolescents

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 11, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
C. Jacques1, S. M. Fecteau2, J. Ruel3, C. Normand4 and L. Mottron, M.D.5, (1)University of Quebec in Outaouais, Gatineau, QC, Canada, (2)Psychoéducation et psychologie, Université du Québec en Outaouais, St-Jérôme, QC, Canada, (3)Science de l'éducation, Université du Québec en Outaouais, Gatineau, QC, Canada, (4)Psychoéducation et psychologie, Université du Québec en Outaouais, Gatineau, QC, Canada, (5)University of Montreal Center of Excellence for Pervasive Developmental Disorders (CETEDUM), Montreal, QC, Canada
Background: Interventions in autism mostly target deficits (McConachie et al., 2017). However, a strength–based approach has been recommended by NIH guidelines (Kendall et al., 2013), parents and young autistic adults (McConachie et al., 2017) as well as critical reviews (Mottron 2017). An innovative intervention model using strengths and interests was therefore developed through action-research, and implemented with autistic children and adolescents.

Objectives: To evaluate the feasibility of implementing a Strengths and Interests-Based Intervention Model according to professionals' experience.

Methods: The research was conducted over a period of 10 months. Ten professionals (psychoeducators), whose main caseload was in autism intervention, received a two-day training session on a Strengths and Interest-Based Intervention Model (Jacques et al., unpublished) under the supervision of four of the authors (CJ, JR, SMF and CLN). A section of the training was dedicated to the use of a new questionnaire specifically designed to evaluate strengths and interests of autistic children and adolescents. Consecutively, these professionals implemented the intervention model with 16 autistic youths (8 to 17 years). Four telephone interviews were then conducted with each psychoeducator during implantation of the intervention model. One focus group, facilitated by two of the authors (CJ and JR), brought together all participants. Exchanges were recorded, transcribed and imported to NVivo, for content analyses. The effective use of strengths and interests in each component of the intervention model (needs assessment, interventions with the youth, parental guidance, and evaluation of the outcomes of the interventions) was evaluated using a qualitative analysis of the themes evoked during the interview and the exchanges of the focus group.

Results: Four major themes were extracted from the thematic analysis of the data collected through interviews and focus group: 1- the strengths and interests' questionnaire is more suitable for youth with high-functioning autism; 2- this questionnaire allows professionals to improve their awareness of strengths and interests among autistic youth; 3- a shift of focus on strengths and interests requires time to be mastered; 4- although interests are commonly used as reinforcement, professionals find it difficult to design interventions, or guide parents, focusing on the children’s strengths and interests. The interviews also showed that, with time, the psychoeducators seem more at ease in using a Strengths and Interests-Based Intervention Model.

Conclusions: The intervention model allowed the participating psychoeducators to consider strengths and interests in addition to the challenges of autistic youths. However, participants underlined the necessity to have more time and support measures in order to adequately implement this new focus. Further steps will enable us to improve the Strengths and Interests–Based Intervention Model for future applications by providing mentoring to new users, as well as developing tools that foster knowledge sharing between professionals and parents, and that allow professionals to measure their use of strengths and interests in their evaluation of and intervention with autistic children and adolescents.