Dianne Malley is the Director of Community Impact and Jessica Sances is the Assistant Director of Program Development and Evaluation of the Transition Pathways program at AJ Drexel Autism Institute, an autism-focused unit that is part of Drexel University. Transition Pathways convenes partnerships with schools, organizations, businesses and community stakeholders to develop innovative approaches to help young adults on the autism spectrum achieve a successful transition to adulthood. It offers a growing collection of programs that prepare young people on the autism spectrum for employment and connect them to career opportunities. AJ Drexel Autism Institute is part of Proof Positive’s Autism Wellbeing Alliance, a community dedicated to enhancing wellbeing outcomes for autistic people, providers, families, and communities.

Dianne and Jessica also attended Proof Positive’s Learning Institute, a professional development workshop for a select group of leaders in autism services. At the Learning Institute, they enhanced their skills in the science and skills of wellbeing and learned how these skills can be adapted for autism intervention. Now, Dianne and Jessica are embarking on a wellbeing journey for their autism programming and learning lessons along the way. Here’s what they told us: 

Dianne: We started our wellbeing journey with a kick-off event for our staff and students. It was a diverse mix of over 50 students with autism and staff of all backgrounds and ages; everyone was an equal learner and participant. We invited an external organization, Creative Praxis, to guide us through exercises related to the skills of happiness, including partnering up to share each others’ Character Strengths. Like Proof Positive, Creative Praxis elevates the importance of knowing and using your individual Character Strengths to positively impact wellbeing and relationships.

Jessica: Using links and resources from Proof Positive’s website, we conducted the VIA Character Strengths survey with our staff, including paraprofessionals, stakeholders, and students. One of our students said, “The character strengths survey was good because it really helped me understand how I am. I believe that everyone else should take the test so they can learn about their personality.”  

In addition, we regularly incorporate What Went Well (a gratitude practice) into our meetings, and I think it’s helped us stay more lighthearted and positive. I can’t wait to deepen our What Went Well practice this year.

Dianne: We liked using Creative Praxis because they stand for the liberation of people who have been oppressed and use creative practices to support wellbeing. Our wellbeing presenters taught us about identifying stress and ways to alleviate that by using our Character Strengths. We identified our strengths and shared them with someone else. It was fun to learn alongside young people with autism in our program and with a diverse group of colleagues. We believe wellbeing has to start with yourself, then your teams, and then the people you serve, and that’s why we had an outside group run the event—that way, Jessica and I could be equal learners and participants in the event. We want to cultivate wellbeing for ourselves to be able to best champion wellbeing for our organization. 

In our profession, we’re used to taking care of others. With wellbeing, we realize it isn’t something you’re always doing for someone else; we all need to engage in these practices, myself included.

One baby step we’re taking is kicking off our staff meetings with What Went Well in staff meetings, and our staff jumped on it—I guess you could say our What Went Well practice is going really well!    

We want to help people thrive. 

Jessica: There’s a lot of discourse around wellbeing in society, and it doesn’t always reach the disability community. Everybody needs to access the science and skills of happiness.

We’re excited to continue our wellbeing journey, taking small steps over time to ensure the greatest opportunity for success. We know it will have a positive impact on the people with disabilities that we serve, including those with autism. 

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