More than 60 parents and educators braved torrential rains and wind to hear autism experts Dr. Peter Gerhardt and Katie Curran discuss strategies to enhance resiliency and happiness at the Y.A.L.E. School Cherry Hill campus. The program, A Spectrum of Happiness: Fostering Resiliency, Flexibility and Optimism in Young Adults on the Autism Spectrum, provided an overview of research in the rapidly growing field of positive psychology.
“Any student coming of age encounters disappointments and struggles to recover from mistakes,” said Margaret Chapman, Assistant Director at Y.A.L.E.’s Cherry Hill campus. “But for a young person on the autism spectrum who values predictability and routine, life’s unexpected twists and turns are particularly upsetting, making resiliency, “grit,” and optimism hard to come by.”
Peter Gerhardt, EdD is an internationally recognized expert, lecturer, researcher, and author on adults with autism. Katie Curran, MAPP is founder of Strength Based Behavior Consultants in Pennington, New Jersey, where she collaborates with families and professionals to assist individuals with autism to recognize and reach their full potential. As part of its outreach efforts to the disability community, Y.A.L.E. brings experts to the school on a regular basis and offers programs at no charge.
The “Science of Happiness”
Strategies for Teachers and Parents to Help Students Build Resilience
According to Curran, resilience is a “teachable skill,” and just as one can learn to cook and ride a bike, one can learn to be more resilient. Here are a few tips:
- Cultivate gratitude. It is helpful to consider at least one thing each day that went well. Ask the student to think of something and record it in words or pictures.
- Get curious: Listen actively and ask leading questions that invite positive thoughts.
- Learn and practice relaxation skills: Deep breathing and physically calming activities can settle the nervous system and prime the body to handle stress better.
- Focus on progress toward a goal, not the outcome. It helps students to see the positive steps, particularly for a longer-term goal.
- Eat. Healthy foods, particularly those with a little natural sugar, like an apple or banana, fuel your body’s ability to think and process complex emotions.