There is increasing evidence for a higher risk for mental health problems in autism with worrying prevalence numbers for depression and anxiety (Ghaziuddin, 2005; Stewart et al., 2006; White et al., 2009; van Steensel, Bögels and Perrin, 2011; Strang et al., 2012). These studies have drawn a lot of attention, resulting in a focus on assessing, preventing and treating mental health problems in autism. Although this is undoubtedly a step forward in the development of strategies to improve quality of life, it still reflects a focus on negative feelings. According to Joseph and Wood (2010) clinical psychology and psychiatry have been using a restricted and negative view of well-being, defining it as “an absence of distress and dysfunction” (p. 831). Joseph and Wood argue in favour of a more positive approach and call for the adoption of measures of positive functioning and to strive towards what is called ‘flourishing’ in positive psychology (Gable and Haidt, 2005; Keyes, 2002; Seligman, 2011). That means that we should not focus on preventing or treating stress and mental health problems in people with autism, but instead strive for well-being and ask ourselves: what makes them happy? Or, in the words of Martin Seligman, it isn’t “enough for us to nullify disabling conditions and get to zero”. Instead, we need to think “How do we get from zero to five?” (Seligman, 1998, cited in Wallis, 2005, p. A1). In other words, instead of trying to prevent people with autism from having negative feelings we should develop strategies that foster and increase positive feelings.
The above is a paragraph taken from my article The practice of promoting happiness in autism, published in 2014 in Good Autism Practice . In that article I describe some autism friendly tools to assess sources of well-being, positive feelings and happiness in autistic people. One of them is a questionnaire I developed in 2014: The Autism Good Feeling Questionnaire.
The questions in this questionnaire were originally part of the Autism-stress Questionnaire (Vermeulen, 2007) but have been changed into items assessing positive feelings instead of stress, according to the principles of positive psychology (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).
In my presentations and lectures on autism and happiness of ‘From neurodiversity to neuroharmony’ I often mention The Autism Good Feeling Questionnaire. As a consequence, people ask for the questionnaire. Recently, the demand has increased significantly.
The original Dutch version has been made available (for free) a couple of years ago on the website of Autisme Centraal. Several hundreds of downloads happened since then. Those of you looking for this version can still find it here.
The Questionnaire has now been translated into different languages: English, French, German, Hungarian, Swedish and Danish.
You can download them for free. I would appreciate if you would send me feedback and inform me how you work with it, what the effects are and how the Questionnaire could be improved.
Different versions of the Autism Good Feeling Questionnaire (Vermeulen, 2014)
Can be found in my article:
Vermeulen, P. (2014). The practice of promoting happiness in autism – in: Jones, G. & Hurley, E. (Eds), Good Autism Practice: Autism, happiness and wellbeing. (pp. 8-17). Birmingham: BILD Publications.