Adaptation of Service Models to Meet the needs of Autistic Communities

Autism Wellness Foundation's Executive Board recognized that ASD may affect behaviour, social interactions, and a person's ability to communicate. We know that ASD crosses all cultural, ethnic, geographic, and socioeconomic boundaries. We have prepared a program plan that is all-encompassing of the unique needs of each client.

Some people on the autism spectrum need specialized care and support across their lifespan. Some can live independently and others need the support staff and caregivers. Some have successful careers and families but still need peer support, mental health care, and wellness coaching. Everyone is different.

Autism Wellness Foundation has chosen to adopt the terms and definitions in this section to help build an understanding of concepts and categorizations found in the medical model of Autism, but also to support an understanding of how language has been/is used to inform the historical discourse of autism. This list is by no means exhaustive and is subject to change without notice.

Autism/Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): a lifelong spectrum of neurodevelopmental conditions, including Asperger Syndrome, affects the way a person communicates and relates to the people and world around them. ASD is a spectrum disorder, all people with ASD experience certain difficulties, but the degree to which each person on the spectrum experiences these challenges will be different and our program model reflects this.

Key symptoms across the lifespan:

Speech may be impacted (limited, repetitious, delayed or absent),

Difficulty with listening

Comprehension and focus

Black and white thinking

Other difficulties may include:

labelling and expressing feelings  

interpreting other’s non-verbal communication about their own feelings

over or under sensory sensitivity

a need for routine and predictability

challenges with social communication

repetitive behaviours or routines  

Neurodiversity: this term was coined in 1998 by autistic Australian social scientist Judy Singer, and centers on the importance of autistic people being accommodated, accepted, and supported on their terms and with dignity in society. The neurodiversity movement rejects the medical model of disability that seeks treatment and a cure for ASD, and engages with the idea of autism as identity, focusing treatment and change efforts rather than focusing on symptoms causing distress and human suffering that may commonly co-occur in people on the autism spectrum.

Person-First Language:

A social and political policy movement. Started in the 1990s, this movement, focuses on changing the disability discourse to highlight the importance of the person in place of using medical model language to describe disability. During this time “person with autism” or “person with ASD” was most commonly used, and it was considered inappropriate to say “autistic person/patient/client”. Person-first language affirms that it is dehumanizing to reduce a person’s identity to their medical or psychological diagnosis/identifier.

It would be unfathomable to say something such as “He is depression” or “She is bladder cancer”.

Identity-First Language:

Identity-first language suggests that saying an “autistic person/adult” may be preferable to some adults, as it is their view is that autism is part of their identity and not something to be ashamed of or eradicated. This more recent reclamation of medicalized terminology is specifically aligned to the concept of neurodiversity and critical disability theory, and it challenges the practice of person-first language. Autistic self-advocates share that a critical part of their neurobiology and worldview should not be considered a deficit and that autism is not something you can “carry” on your person, like a bag.

The most important thing to consider is how a person chooses to identify is determined by them. It is helpful to share upfront how you identify (neurotypical/neurodiverse, personal pronouns such as He/Him, She/Her, They/Them…etc), as this can signal to participants in your group that you are open to accepting how they may identify.

For more information on the contested topic of language and discourse in autism, ASAN has compiled a variety of sources on the topic.

Additional Resources

Williams, C.J. and Garland, A, (2002). A cognitive behavioural therapy assessment model for use in everyday clinical practice. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 8, 172-179.

Wright, B., Williams, C, Garland, A. (2002). Using the Five Areas cognitive-behavioural therapy model with psychiatric patients. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 8, 307-315.

Williams, C, Garland, A. (2002). Identifying and challenging unhelpful thinking. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 8, 377-386

Garland, A., Fox, R., Williams, C.J. (2002). Overcoming reduced activity and avoidance: a five areas approach. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 8: 6, 453-462.

Whitfield, G., Williams. C.J. (2003). The evidence base for cognitive-behavioural therapy in depression: delivery in busy clinical settings. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 9, 21-30

Williams C.J. (2001). Use of written cognitive-behavioural therapy self-help materials to treat depression. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 7, 233-240. Click here to download