Spotting Strengths, Finding Joy: How Easterseals Is Using Positive Psychology in Autism Services

Spotting Strengths, Finding Joy: How Easterseals Is Using Positive Psychology in Autism Services

Written by Adrienne Hedger, Easterseals Internal Marketing Manager

For Autism Acceptance Month in April, we sat down with Rick Gutierrez, Ph.D., Vice President of Clinical Strategy & Operations at Easterseals Southern California, to talk about a powerful approach that is creating more balance and wellness in people’s lives.

Is it possible to focus on the good, even during times of difficulty and crisis? At Easterseals Southern California (ESSC), the answer is a definitive YES. We have been using the science of positive psychology in Autism Services with our participants and associates. Here’s how it works, and the effect it’s having.

What is Positive Psychology?

This approach is a scientific look at what constitutes a pleasant, engaged and meaningful life. The focus is on human strengths and virtues.

“We learned about it from Proof Positive, a national autism wellbeing non-profit,” says Rick Gutierrez, PhD., Vice President of Clinical Strategy & Operations at Easterseals Southern California. “We recognized right away that this approach could make a real impact on the people who participate in our services, as well as their families.”

Applying it to Autism Services

Within Autism Services, ESSC is using positive psychology tools with teens and adults and their families.

People might come to ESSC feeling frustrated, stressed, or scared—and on top of that, families are used to being told what’s wrong with their loved one. Positive psychology balances all of this out by introducing optimism and hope, and opening up new avenues of thinking. The tools include:

Character Strengths. With the VIA Character Strength Survey and follow-up conversations, ESSC helps participants and their caregivers identify the aspects of their life that are essential to who they are.

“I like to ask people what their loved one or family member looks like at their best,” adds Rick. “This simple question completely changes the conversation.”

Strength Spotting. Once they identify their character strengths, individuals and family members practice “Strength Spotting,” where they identify and regularly recognize the Character Strengths in themselves and others.

Jolts of Joy. This tool is all about quick actions someone can take during the day to immediately boost happiness. At ESSC, this means taking the time to truly understand what brings joy to the people we serve. What will quickly cheer them up? How can we give them more control to create their own joy and happiness?

“We were seeing great progress with these tools in Autism Services,” says Rick, “so we decided to apply them internally as well.”

How Associates Are Using the Tools

The first group to receive positive psychology training within ESSC was the START Crisis Support Team. This program supports individuals experiencing a crisis who have a history of developmental disability and mental health concerns.

“Working on the crisis hotline is an intense job, and we wanted to help associates stay in a position of wellness,” says Rick. “With the positive psychology tools, our team is able to consistently put their best selves out there to help people in really difficult moments.”

Associates are using all the tools mentioned above, and also regularly ask “What went well?” and then share their answers. This encourages everyone to focus on gratitude, and associates say that it’s making a difference in their work.

Spreading the Joy

Now Rick and his team are training other groups within ESSC to use positive psychology in their own lives and with the people we serve. From Strength Spotting to Jolts of Joy to What Went Well, it all adds up to a transformative mindset. One that helps people effectively face challenges and live a happier, healthier life.

“This approach just makes sense,” says Rick. “People are making a conscious effort to approach life with a positive attitude, and that has a ripple effect. We’re seeing the results every day.”


Finding Jolts of Joy

Jolts of Joy can quickly put you in a more positive mindset. How can you work them into your day? Try some of these ideas… and comment with your own ideas!

Watch a funny video online

Take a five-minute walk

Take a moment to appreciate something you see in nature

Enjoy a favorite beverage or treat

Send a text to a friend or loved one

Listen to a favorite song

Look at photos that make you happy

Smell a favorite scent

Check a funny account online

About the Author:

Adrienne Hedger is the Manager of Internal Communications for Easterseals Southern California, where she writes articles about the organization, its people and its projects. She has been a business writer for more than 20 years, specializing in the healthcare industry.

Leave A Comment