Rick Gutierrez is the Vice President of Clinical Strategy & Operations, and Jennie Myhra is the Vice President of Behavioral Services for Easterseals Southern California, where they’re leading the way to full equity, inclusion and access for the disability and autism communities. Easterseals Southern California is part of Proof Positive’s Autism Wellbeing Alliance, a community dedicated to enhancing wellbeing outcomes for autistic people, providers, families, and communities.

Jennie and Rick 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 knowledge of the science and skills of wellbeing and learned how these skills can be adapted for autism intervention. Now, Jennie and Rick are transforming their organization’s approach to human resources, leadership, and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) through the science and skills of positive psychology, but you’ll want to hear it from them. On to you, Jennie and Rick! 

Rick: When Jennie and I learned about Proof Positive, a national autism wellbeing non-profit, and that we could download free, evidence-informed wellbeing skills on its website, we immediately saw the potential impact of positive psychology skills—we knew we had to start implementing them right away.

Jennie: We started a gratitude practice with our team. One teacher and clinician on my team is known for being stoic in meetings, yet when we opened the floor to him during this gratitude discussion, he revealed something very personal. The gratitude practice allowed him to connect with his team and build trust. Allowing that time and space to be human through the skills of happiness opened the door to other emotions. The skills can help foster meaningful connections with colleagues and reduce negativity in the workplace.  

The best part is the skills are bite-sized and easy to use. It’s as simple as modeling one of the Skills for my teammates in a meeting; from there, my colleagues can practice it and make it their own.

Rick: In our crisis prevention program, any clinician can bring forward a complicated case of a person with autism or other developmental disability, and regardless of the complexity, the skills still apply to both the client and the caregiver. When I introduce the fundamental aspects of human flourishing, Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Mattering, Accomplishment, and Health (PERMA+) to caregivers, they can immediately recognize which aspects are lacking in their lives and where they may need to supplement to feel better. I see so many caregivers who are often overworked and unrecognized, so taking stock of their wellbeing with the PERMA+ Snapshot is a way to recognize their unmet needs while also valuing the parts of life that are going well. 

Parents and caregivers have a lot on their plates, and clinicians need to be thoughtful in their approach when trying to address concerns. Once I introduce Character Strengths, a skill that helps us recognize our unique set of strengths, the parents are usually interested in learning more. Because caregivers are often told what’s wrong with their loved one, Character Strengths helps them focus on what’s right with them. The next step is Strength Spotting, or recognizing and celebrating strengths in others. I first tried to model Strength Spotting in my practice and noticed that caregivers also started to Strength Spot their loved ones and each other! 

When a client is seeking crisis services, the first phone call is usually very negative and focuses on everything that is going wrong. Slowly, I infuse Strength Spotting into our conversations, and it completely changes the narrative. Usually, I begin by asking what their loved one or family member looks like at their best. Using the science and skills of positive psychology helps the client to refocus on the positive. It offers the opportunity to positively change their thinking and a pathway to happiness.

Jennie: Exactly. Autism service providers who use the skills say this is what’s been missing in ABA. The field was created by psychologists; it’s about practical strategies. With a positive psychology framework, providers can layer on skills that promote empathy and compassion, bringing humanity back into our work.  

You have to remember you’re engaging with people’s loved ones and their children. So much of what they have heard until now has been deficit-based; it’s refreshing to lead reports with a client’s strengths. The positive psychology skills are easy to learn and implement because they make sense—when providers and clients feel connected, they perform better.

Rick: Spreading the science and skills of happiness to others is important. It shows people that happiness is possible and that you can learn how to be happy. You can change your life. Once someone starts practicing a skill that resonates with them, like gratitude, they often start to feel better and want others to feel better, too. And it’s not just at work; the skills naturally spread happiness to personal friends, family, the community, and beyond.

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