Thursday, February 22, 2018

Self-Acceptance on the Autism Spectrum

What is Self-Acceptance?

Self-acceptance is an important component of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). It means fully accepting yourself no matter where you are on the autism spectrum or how you perform or achieve. Self-acceptance is not the same as self-esteem, self-confidence or self-regard. These terms imply that you can accept yourself because you perform or behave in a specific way or because people accept you based on your achievements. Self-acceptance means that you non-judgmentally accept yourself for who you are without rating or evaluating yourself or requiring the approval of others.

Self-acceptance also means accepting one’s individual reality and combating perfectionism and unhelpful thinking habits. As human beings, we are fallible and highly imperfect. Demand and all-or-nothing thinking results in self-defeating behavior that invariably leads to feelings of anxiety and depression. The idea that there is an absolute and perfect solution to life’s troubles is unrealistic since few things are black and white, and typically there are many alternative solutions to a problem situation. Here are some general ideas derived from CBT for accepting your personal reality and remaining uniquely you:

  • Surrender the belief that you must perform competently in every situation. Challenge the assumption that you must always please others and achieve perfectly. Avoid the tendency to evaluate yourself and accept failure as undesirable but not awful or catastrophic. Accept compromise and reasonable rather than absolute and perfect solutions to life’s problems.
  • Strongly dispute the belief that you must feel accepted by every significant person for nearly everything that you do. Rather, keep the approval of others as desirable, but not an essential goal. Seriously consider other people’s criticisms of your traits without agreeing with their negative evaluations of you. Strive to do what you really enjoy rather than what other people think you must or should do.
  • When others behave badly towards you or in relation to themselves, ask yourself whether you should really upset yourself about their behavior. Will people change their behavior because you expect or demand that they do so? Telling yourself that the person or situation is unlikely to change no matter how much you think they should and accept that fact, will keep you from feeling inappropriately angry and resentful. People are independent entities. While we are in control of our own emotional destiny, we do not have control over the behavior of others.

Adapted from Wilkinson, L. A. (2015). Overcoming Anxiety on the Autism Spectrum: A Self-Help Guide Using CBTLondon and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD, NCSP is a licensed and nationally certified school psychologist, registered psychologist, and certified cognitive-behavioral therapist (CCBT).  Dr. Wilkinson provides consultation services and best practice guidance to school systems, agencies, advocacy groups, and professionals on a wide variety of topics related to children and youth with autism spectrum disorder. He is also a university educator and trainer, and has published widely on the topic of autism spectrum disorders both in the US and internationally. He is author of the award-winning books, A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools and Overcoming Anxiety on the Autism Spectrum: A Self-Help Guide Using CBT. He is also editor of a best-selling text in the APA School Psychology Book Series, Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children and Adolescents: Evidence-Based Assessment and Intervention in Schools. Dr. Wilkinson's latest book is A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder in Schools (2nd Edition).

© 2018 Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD

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