Lauren Romano is the program coordinator for YALE School’s Standard 9 transition program for 18 to 21-year-olds in Blackwood, New Jersey. There, she oversees five homerooms of students with autism and other developmental disabilities. She supports students inside and outside the classroom to gain employment, independent living, or college readiness skills. YALE School is part of Proof Positive’s Autism Wellbeing Alliance, a community dedicated to enhancing wellbeing outcomes for autistic people, providers, families, and caregivers.

Lauren also attended Proof Positive’s Learning Institute, a professional development workshop for a select group of leaders in autism services. At the Learning Institute, she enhanced her expertise in the science and skills of wellbeing and learned how to adapt the skills for autistic students, but you’ll want to hear it from her. Take it away, Lauren! 

Hello, Lauren here. After learning about Proof Positive’s free wellbeing resources for autistic students, I worked with our teachers, Child Study Team (CST) members, and teaching assistants to layer wellbeing skills into our transition program. The hope is that these evidence-informed positive psychology skills will help our students and staff develop practices that can lead to enhanced wellbeing. Over the next couple of years, I plan to implement more practices like inducing joy, gratitude journaling, mindfulness, capitalizing on character strengths, and spotting character strengths. 

Seeing the skills in action during daily life at YALE has been exciting. One of the biggest hits is a Jolts of Joy box, where students can submit a paper with a happening from that week that induced positive emotions. I draw a name at the end of the week, and the winning student can shop at the school store. All the Jolts of Joy slips are on a poster on my door. Students love to share their Jolts of Joy, and after a school break, they asked me if we would still use the Jolts of Joy box!

In our program, CST members intentionally teach students the vocabulary around character strengths. Students ask and answer, “What is a character strength, and how is it different from something I’m good at?” This shows progress as the common language of wellbeing is spreading to everyone. Once students understand what it means to have “Bravery” or “Humor” as a strength in themselves, they can begin to recognize and celebrate the strengths in others (Strength Spotting). As part of the program, CST members adapt the skills of happiness for students with autism so that the language is concrete and accessible to every student. 

We’re also focusing on gratitude in the transition program at YALE. It’s easy to layer in the question, “What went well in there?” after a job site experience. Teachers will ask their students, “How is this demonstrating Gratitude?” and point out examples in literature and movies that help them understand the concept of gratitude.

I believe the skills of happiness have the power to go much deeper—they can help students access difficult-to-learn concepts such as empathy and resilience and make connections with each other. The skills of happiness provide a framework for thinking about other people’s experiences and give them tools to cope when they encounter tough situations at school, with friends, at a job training site, and in life. Giving the language of wellbeing to students means they’ll be able to articulate their strengths and accomplishments to future employers, an essential skill for job readiness. Being able to articulate this to a state agency may mean the difference between receiving services or not. 

Unlike some tasks, which are top-down and require extra work on the provider, positive psychology skills are the perfect addition to lessons and learnings that are already happening. For example, in the skills development class, the CST member highlights one character strength per month so that, over time, students have a basic understanding of all 24 strengths. My vision is a three-year course structure for the science and skills of happiness, spanning students’ time in the program. When more experienced students mentor the incoming students and feel the accomplishment in modeling and teaching the skills to someone else, it sets us up for a cycle of success.

When I first started supporting 18 to 21-year-olds with autism, I noticed that many of our students were prone to negativity. Students with autism often feel like they don’t have control over their life narrative and are told all the things they can’t do and need to be better at. But now, we see many solutions to overcome that negativity, which involve learning and practicing the skills of happiness. I’m excited for the future and to witness the improved wellbeing of our program staff and students.

Currently, YALE School’s teachers, students, and administrators are all flourishing by learning and practicing the science and skills of happiness. Flourishing means you’re not staying stagnant— you’re growing, which is the best state to be in, according to the science of wellbeing.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments