Brock researchers seek caregivers for study on autistic children’s strengths

Perceptions of autism can often focus on the challenges and disadvantages experienced by those on the spectrum. But there’s another side to the story that’s currently being explored by Brock researchers.

“Historically, so much of autism research has focused on the limitations, the failures, the deficiencies associated with autism,” says Priscilla Burnham Riosa, Associate Professor of Applied Disability Studies.

Burnham Riosa and graduate student Kevin Yu are seeking parents or other caregivers of children ages 10 to 17 years old for a study on the successes and advantages of young people with autism.

“All of the work that we do in our lab is focused on understanding what a meaningful life is for people on the autism spectrum,” Burnham Riosa says. “We can potentially tap into that by delving into the area of strengths.”

Caregivers will answer an online survey identifying their children’s various positive characteristics. After they complete the survey, researchers will provide caregivers with feedback on their children’s strengths.

“Strengths parents could identify include qualities and behaviours such as perseverance, curiosity and honesty,” says Yu.

He says a balance of positive and negative is needed to promote better outcomes for children on the autism spectrum and their families.

“If everything that people said about you was negative, you wouldn’t feel too great. So, for an autistic child, this kind of messaging could negatively affect the child, the parent and the parent-child relationship,” Yu says. “When you start introducing more positive aspects, it has been shown to increase overall well-being of parents and improve the parent-child relationship.”

Burnham Riosa hopes the research will help guide professionals in optimizing programs and services to highlight possibilities and skills development beyond the scope of what’s missing or lacking among young people on the autism spectrum.

She says this “mind shift” has the potential to open doors for these children’s educational and vocational futures.

“What do autistic youth bring to the table that we can capitalize on, build from and potentially develop careers from by understanding their passion and areas where they excel?” she says.

Those who are interested in participating in the study can complete the online survey or contact Yu at for more information. Participants have the chance to win one of four $25 Amazon gift card and can receive their child’s strength summary.

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