Label this and Say What?! Building a Strengths-Based Descriptive Model for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome

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Say What?! Building a Strengths-Based Descriptive Model for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome

So, what’s in a word? The language and the words we use have power. Power to think about something in a certain way. It is time for a global revolution in the way we think about Asperger Syndrome. I believe it is time to move from a “deficit-based” model to a strengths-based one, which in addition to weaknesses, includes and assesses and describes people based on their strengths, skills, abilities, gifts and/or talents. Individuals with Autism have what we refer to as “spikey profiles” and a different developmental profile, meaning that often they may be behind in one developmental area, but ahead in another. In my clinical work, I have met people of all ages with weaknesses, yes, but also a stunning array of diverse abilities, talents and gifts, which has been overlooked. The deficit-approach has ignored strengths and contributed to the rampant identity and self-esteem issues that are seen in individuals with Asperger Syndrome. I’ve also met many people, including professionals who believe or have been led to believe, that individuals with Asperger Syndrome cannot contribute to society and/or work. This could not be further from the truth. I believe deficit-based diagnostic criteria and deficit-based approaches are partly responsible for this. It’s time for a strengths-based language, approach and positive strengths-based outlook for individuals with Asperger Syndrome, of all ages, sub-types and levels. The following is a work-in-progress, based on the descriptions relayed to me in clinical practice. I offer an alternative description after the bolded word “OR” . This list will be updated as time permits.

Too sensitive or too caring OR Emotionally Empathic, Sensitive

Selfish OR Independent

In his/her own world OR Becoming an expert in his/her special interest

Odd, weird, freaky OR Unique

Bi-polar OR Feels emotions intensely/deeply, An “empath”

Disorder OR A neurological condition he/she is born with

Co-morbid OR Co-existing (a part of a condition)

Anti-social, hermit-like OR Gifted in working with animals and/or children and/or nature

Unable to work in groups OR Excellent one-on-one or presenting to a group

Bossy OR Director/Leadership Skills/Spirited (Early intervention helps here!)

Clingy OR Affectionate

Compulsive OR Efficient and Attention to Detail

Conceited or arrogant OR Confident and Values Self

Crabby or irritable OR Communicate Needs

Dawdles OR Easygoing and Mindful

Defiant OR Strong Beliefs and Courageous

Demanding OR Assertive, Determination, Independent

Doodles OR Creative

Hyper, boisterous OR Active, enthusiastic, lvoes to move

Dramatic OR Emotionally Aware and Emotionally Expressive

Fearful or anxious OR Thoughtful, Cautious, Careful, Highly Sensitive

Freaks our, hides under tables OR Hypersensitive to sounds, lighting, smell, and sight

Talks too much OR has an extensive vocabulary, communicative

Finicky Eater OR Gourmet and Discriminating Tastes

Foolish OR Funloving

Obsessions OR Expert in an area

A brooder OR Serious

Disruptive OR Eager

Dreamy OR Imaginative

Explosive OR Dramatic

Forceful OR Determined

Giddy, Silly OR Good-humoured, joyful

Highly strung OR Enthusiastic

Impatient OR Passionate

Intense OR Focused

Loud OR Expressive

Moody OR Highly Sensitive

Not participating OR Observer

Picky OR Selective

Stubborn OR Peristent

Unfocused OR Curious

Foolish OR Funloving

Withdrawn OR Introspective

Fusses about food/clothes OR Specific Tastes and keen sense of self

Goofy OR Joyful and Entertaining, Great sense of humour

Impulsive OR Spontaneous

Loud OR Exuberant, confident and expressive

Hyperactive OR Energetic, full-of-life, creative

Naughty OR Independent and Exploring Boundaries

Nosey OR Curious Inquisitive Mind

Not Focusing OR Processing a variety of information

Quiet, Shy OR Thoughtful and Reflective Thinker

Rigid OR High Sense of order

Shy OR Selective about who they Value and trust, Reflective

Silly OR A Good Sense of Humour

Sneaky OR Inventive and Creative

Stubborn OR Determined and Persistent

Tattletale or Dobber OR High Seeker of Truth and Justice

Lacks empathy OR Possesses great emotional empathy, feels too intensely and experiences physical or emotional manifestations of other people’s energy, leading to meltdown or shutdown


I believe that individuals with Asperger Syndrome have many Superpowers. The difference between bossiness and leadership skills is in early intervention (EI). EI makes a world of difference in supporting children/teens into being successful adults. Caveat: I am not saying that individuals challenges are ignored. I am saying that their strengths and talents need to be included in their profile.

Tania Marshall©. All rights reserved. Duplication in whole or part is explicitly forbidden. Thank you.

21 thoughts on “Label this and Say What?! Building a Strengths-Based Descriptive Model for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome

  1. Pingback: Label this and Say What?! Building a Strengths-Based Descriptive Model for Individuals with Autism | melli´s kleines nähkästchen

  2. I believe you are right Tania – The strength’s -based model is empowering and so positive and so NOT what we Aspie’s are used to hearing. The world for folk with an ASD would have to improve if ASD was spoken of and accepted /experienced as a strength instead of a deficit. Love your work!!!!!

  3. Thank you Tania – I love how you demonstrate the power of language – how it can help us look differently at the unique gifts in everyone, especially affirming for those of us who have been carrying the burden of a ‘label’ ❤

    • Annette, thank-you for your comments. Language is powerful and I believe in advocating for the world to start to viewing at individuals with Autism as having unique strangths, talents, gifts and/or contributions. Any other way is a complete disservice to them. All the best!

      • You are so right; language can be a precise tool yet can mean different things to different people.
        It is interesting that, in the past many of these deficiencies we are seen to have today were thought of more positively in the past.
        Consider the Absent-minded or reclusive professor/inventor, those so involved in an area of interest that they take it on to new bounds (Einstein, Darwin, etc),
        Great engineers such as Stephenson, Telford, Brunel …
        Great leaders like Lincoln and Churchill, who were all thought of as odd, in their days but in a time when the range of humanity was deemed to be much wider than today when we have to separate and label everything to the finest details

  4. As with most everything about life and existence as human beings, there’s a hard-to-find and even-harder-to-sustain balance needful in “descriptions”.
    I’m a non-Aspie 57-year-old male who’s been married to an Aspie for thirty-three years. After all these decades, I still love her madly.
    However, we knew zero about Asperger’s when we met in 1978, Her Aspie differences definitely strained our intimacy (meaning emotional/affectional/relational intimacy here primarily), to the point where, in the first ten years of our marriage, I came to wonder if our problems were because of me not being the person she could love. But I finally came to realize (on my own, without professional counseling or anything, to clarify) in the second decade of our marriage that it wasn’t me, and wasn’t her, per se — but rather, that, somehow, she is “wired’ differently than the “typical” person and especially differently than the “typical” woman. My awareness is probably why we are still together — I realized that I had to relate to her based upon her “wiring” difference.
    So, my point here. As a non-Aspie long-term with an Aspie, I emphatically agree that Aspie’s have definite strengths which “normal wireds” lack. Aspies need to be affirmed of that fact. But, Aspies are stuck as a minority living in a majority of “normal wireds”. Aspies don’t relate to life nor to people the way “normies” do, and the fact remains that the difference makes social/personal interactions between Aspies and “normies” harder not only for the Aspie but also for the majority Aspies live among, the non-Aspies. Aspies have amazing strengths, for certain — but, however affirmingly and positively “descriptions” might be crafted, the fact remains that Aspies also, through no fault of theirs or anyones, have wiring differences which can bring weaknesses to personal, familial, and social relationships, especially in the first thirty or so years of their lives (until they’ve learned, often by experience and trial-and-error, coping tactics to compensate for that “theory of mind”
    which the normie majority’s wiring learns early in childhood).
    But, I agree – affirm the strengths. And generate awareness — awareness of what an issue is goes far in enabling those involved being able to understand and relate to one another.

    • Thank you for saying this! I am also a non-Aspie married to a 50 year old Aspie with a 12 year old Aspie and I think that people are afraid to say that this ‘situation’ comes with major weaknesses as well as major strengths. I think especially for parents, they don’t realize that Aspies eventually have to grow up and build relationships with other people, people other than their very tolerant and unconditionally loving parents. To be successful at this, Aspies have to understand those weaknesses and own them, as well as highlight their strengths. I think it is short-sided that the autism community is so focused on tolerance, acceptance and highlighting strengths. All people deserve respect, but that doesn’t mean that every weakness can be magically turned into a strength. The logic and thought process that governs the personal interactions of an Aspie, while it is not their fault, affect other people deeply. To me, I treat my family as I would treat any other person – you have strengths and weaknesses. We should absolutely highlight those strengths and give them every opportunity to succeed, but they also have things to work on that get in their way. They are not better or worse than anyone else without Asperger’s – they just have different strengths and weaknesses. I worry that in some ways, we are so focused on acceptance that we are swinging the pendulum the other way and instead, breeding entitlement. I realize that having Asperger’s makes people feel like they are the underdog and that they are always making mistakes because it is hard for them to ‘fit’ into a non-Aspie world. But that doesn’t mean that we need to shift everything so that we no longer expect them to work on the issues that are tripping them up and affecting the people around them. I realize this is NOT a popular opinion. I love my children and my spouse deeply and only want the best for them. I too find their quirkiness and uniqueness a fabulous asset and want to celebrate their strengths but not at the expense of allowing them to overlook the issues that disconnect them from the world. It would be easy for me to ignore those challenges, they are very difficult to work on and improve but I would be an awful parent and spouse to be anything less than honest.

      • I agree with your general view.

        But I also think that the whole trick of life IS getting the balance right between awareness of short comings with also being open to potential and real positive abilities.

        It is even emotional more than anything else. Being humble without being ashamed. Being aware of faults without being low in self esteem. Being positive and with a sense of great potential without believing in the impossible or pointless.

  5. Pingback: A Change in Perception | themensasmomma

  6. Makes me think of when I went to get my Class 1 aviation medical done, and had to tell the doctor about having been diagnosed with Aspergers. His response was that I would likely have to jump through some hoops to prove it wasn’t severe enough to be detrimental to my ability to fly, but he thought for a second and then said, “Honestly, from what I know of Aspergers, I think it would be more likely to make you a better pilot.”

  7. Lovely to read this Tania. I used a similar method when working with teachers on bringing the best out in boys – looking for the positive qualities underlying (annoying) boyish attributes. This allows teachers to change their perception, e.g. ‘never-stops-moving’ => ‘energetic’; ‘fights in the playground’ => ‘passionate’; ‘challenges’ => ‘courageous’. Then, instead of giving up on boys for their ‘bad’ behaviour, the teacher works out how to channel boys’ energy, passion and courage whilst teaching them what behaviours are acceptable and unacceptable. Recognising the positive qualities in someone does not preclude teaching them behaviours that help them get on in society. We can do both!

  8. I find that certain personalities are particulalry inclined towards preferring to view me in the worst possible light. They are the same type who have set me up for social humiliation.

    I theoried that they lack emotional depth. Have great superficial people skills but are emotionally shallow (interestingly I read information on bullies having great cognitive empathy but poor affective empathy !-ha, i was right that this persoality is my nemesis).
    I am the tortoise and they are the hare.

    This type, critically, will often have a position of higher social status, often a people manager because of their superficial people skills. But their lack of proper empathy, their shallowness – and especially their completely different style to me, mean that they view my poor social ability as more deliberate lack of empathy for others.

    The actual truth has been that there is a disconnect in my ability to be self aware. I actually have a disability in regards to being able to tell how I may come across (incliding sometimes having shocking dress sense) along with some truly poor “social chess” playing skills, in that I seem like a dumb animal at times in terms of leaving my self open to attack by others.

    This was all especially the case as a young person and a young person around men. I also have always been “more dominant” for lack of a better term regarding sexuality/gender role.
    I suspect that women are obliged to be sociall py skilled as not being so means they are more easily preyed upon by men. I lost my career and a great deal of self confidence.

    But the narcissist personality is in particular, I find, one to be careful of. These are the kind who are nice to one’s face, whilst doing damage behind your back. Like one of those Queen Bee ‘mean girl’ types.

    I can spot the type very quickly now. It’s almost like being a wounded wildebeast spotted by a hyena -I can almost see a predatory look in their eyes and sense them trying to convince themselves of why NOT to either see me as worth much less than them or in fact socially assasinate me (if it gets that bad).

    I now choose to run a mile from such types. Sometimes they are even ones siblings.

    But these types prefer to see Aspergirls in terms solely of flaws and faults and deficits, because it flatters their self image and is also a defence against all that they lack. Because they are ifact all surface. Their empathy is superficial and to acknowledge an Aspergirls strengths would be to acknolwedge a Narcissist’s weaknesses -namely lack of emotional depth.

    Unfortunately my poor perspective taking means I habitually fail to guess other peoples’ short comings and any lack of scruples as far as preying on others to hide their insufficiencies.

    Maybe one day I will learn to protect my self instead of being easy prey for social predators.

  9. Pingback: How Mental Health Language Creates Stigma - Insight Mental Health Counselling

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