Wendy White is an Autism Clinical Specialist at Redwood Coast Regional Center in Eureka, California. Redwood Coast Regional Center collaborates and consults with social service agencies, and White’s job includes supporting clients who may need behavioral support. Redwood Coast Regional Center is part of Proof Positive’s Autism Wellbeing Alliance, a community dedicated to enhancing wellbeing outcomes for autistic people, providers, families, and caregivers.

Wendy 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 skills in the science and skills of wellbeing and how these skills can be adapted for autism intervention, but you’ll want to hear it from her. Take it away, Wendy! 

Hello, I’m Wendy, and I’m excited to share my experience with the skills of happiness and what a positive difference they have made in my clients’ lives. Sometimes, it feels like the individuals who come across my desk are people who have lost hope in themselves and in systems. Our systems are set up to evaluate people based on their deficits and disabilities, so understandably, they might feel discouraged. When a client seems to have lost hope and refuses services, I first introduce them to positive psychology skills—to show them happiness in life is possible.

We begin by taking a wellbeing survey that’s based on the fundamental elements of human flourishing. The PERMA+ Snapshot survey, which tracks an individual’s PERMA+ (Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Mattering, Accomplishment, and Health), is one of Proof Positive’s evidence-informed resources that helps people take stock of their wellbeing. 

Once a client takes the survey, it helps them understand what might be missing in their lives. It helps me understand why they might be hesitant to move forward with services and subsequently present solutions to remedy that. The survey also shows areas you’re already excelling in, so it’s an opportunity to support clients by capitalizing on what’s going well. 

PERMA+ as a wellbeing practice has its benefits, too. People who track their PERMA+ Snapshot are more likely to practice the skills of wellbeing that lead to more resilience in times of challenge and stress, experience higher levels of satisfaction with work and their careers, and feel greater meaning in their community and day-to-day lives.

When reflecting on the elements of PERMA+, clients ask themselves, “Do I have meaning in life? How are my relationships with others? Am I engaged in my work?” It immediately shifts the focus to what is currently contributing to the client’s happiness and what some of their needs may be to increase their happiness. Once clients can see a structure to promote their wellbeing, they can see a pathway forward. 

To improve wellbeing outcomes, I believe we need to widen the community’s lens to see people where they’re strongest and build upon that. It would be wrong to keep with the current system that starts with where they’re broken. Starting services from a place of positivity motivates clients to take control of their wellbeing because everyone wants to capitalize on their strengths and what makes them feel good. 

After reflecting on a client’s PERMA+, one of the first practices I suggest to them is positive emotions journaling (a practice based on the science around Positivity Portfolios) in which caregivers or clients take pictures of experiences they have in their daily lives that evoke positive emotions. They put these photos in a journal with captions of the associated positive emotions and descriptions of what is happening in the photo. They’re encouraged to review the journals often and continuously build upon them. It’s a practice that can help with episodic memory and recalling events in hindsight and then with foresight. 

Later on, I encourage them to continue reflecting on the elements of PERMA+ by taking photos of their daily activities and reviewing them through a PERMA+ lens; how do these photos demonstrate their relationships? Which of these activities is bringing them meaning?

Positive psychology skills are so valuable because people can get to know themselves, which experiences they enjoy, and how to actively get more of them. It’s a step toward making their lives more meaningful. And it works. After beginning wellbeing practices, most of my clients who had initially given up and were refusing services accept support services, and we can support their movement toward greater wellbeing.

After using Proof Positive’s PERMA+ Snapshot survey and resources, I’ve seen remarkable shifts in my clients’ perspectives, from losing hope to regaining control over their wellbeing. We’re embracing positivity, autonomy, and the pursuit of happiness. 

Thank you, Wendy and the team at Redwood Coast Regional Center, for using the skills of happiness to create a more inclusive and empowering environment for autistic individuals, promising a brighter future for all involved.

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