Using Parent-Identified Strengths of Adolescents with Autism to Inform Transition Interventions
Objectives: To examine parental perceptions of the strengths of their adolescents with ASD.
Methods: We analyzed qualitative interviews from parents of youth with ASD. Using similar interviews conducted as part of three related research studies, we collected qualitative interviews with 41 parents of youth with ASD (4 females, 37 males). All the youth were verbally-competent and most had average or above-average IQ scores. In the interviews, parents were asked about their visions for the future related to their adolescent with ASD transitioning to adulthood. Interviews were semi-structured in nature, audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and were analyzed using multiple coders. Although questions did not specifically address strengths, all participants discussed the strengths of their children. Interviews were thematically coded and categorized to identify parent perceptions of youth strengths.
Results: The qualitative analysis suggests a wide variety of strengths among adolescents with ASD. These strengths grouped into 5 key domains: Creative Thinking (creative, innovative thinking), Cognitive Strengths, (science, math, language arts), Strength in Structure (routines, following rules), Hands-on Learning Style and Technology. The large majority of the parents identified their children as smart, with reported strengths in a range of areas. Additionally, parents viewed youth preferences for structure and consistency as a strength.
Conclusions: The results of this qualitative analysis suggest that parents are important informants of the strengths of youth with ASD. Related to the transition to adulthood, we encourage parents and professionals to consider these strengths when planning for adulthood. Many transition plans focus on social-communication challenges that might overshadow strengths. The most commonly recognized skill domains were Creative Thinking, Cognitive Strengths, and Structure, suggesting that a focus on these strengths may be particularly important when discussing future outcomes for youth with ASD. For example, priority areas of career exploration could include those fields that might target the youth’s strengths. Although individual youth present with unique strengths and challenges, this study suggests that parents can play an important role during transition to harness strengths for more successful transition plans. Future research should focus on the incorporation of strengths that are balanced with an awareness of challenges when supporting the transition process for youth with ASD in adulthood.