“Best Things”: Parents Describe Their Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder Over Time

Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders


“Best Things”: Parents Describe Their Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder Over Time

Katherine T. Cost1 · Anat Zaidman‐Zait2 · Pat Mirenda3 · Eric Duku4 · Lonnie Zwaigenbaum5 · Isabel M. Smith6 · Wendy J. Ungar1 · Connor Kerns3 · Theresa Bennett4 · Peter Szatmari7 · Stelios Georgiades4 · Charlotte Waddell8 · Mayada Elsabbagh9 · Tracy Vaillancourt10

Accepted: 17 January 2021

© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC part of Springer Nature 2021


This study examined parental perceptions of the character traits of children with autism from early childhood to age 11. Parents (n = 153) provided descriptions of the “best things” about their children on the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) at ages 3–4, 7–8, and 10–11 years. Descriptions were coded using the framework of the Values in Action Classification of Strengths, with additional traits added as needed. Parent-endorsed traits included love, kindness, happiness, and humor in children across all ages and traits such as perseverance as children entered school. Higher CBCL scores were associated with a lower likelihood of endorsement for Humanity traits. Results are congruent with a contemporary neurodiversity perspective that emphasizes strengths and resilience.


This study adds to the growing body of research in this area by examining parental perspectives of the “best things” about their children with ASD from early childhood to age 11. On average, parents identified three “best things,” irrespective of children’s autism symptom severity and/or externalizing and internalizing behavioral challenges. They recognized traits such as love, kindness, happiness, and humor in their children regardless of age, while also recognizing traits such as perseverance increasingly as their children matured and entered school. What was perhaps most striking was the tone of many of the parental responses to the “best things” request, with many parents offering comments such as “a bundle of joy and a ball of energy,” “[a best thing is] his mind and heart,” “a true gift in my life,” and “he has a super great heart!” One gets the impression that, for the most part, these parents did not have to think hard in order to identify positive traits in their children; rather, they readily recognized these assets and were both proud of and eager to share them. Their comments are a reminder of the importance of looking past diagnostic labels, test scores, and behavioral challenges to focus on individual strengths, toward the goal of supporting people with ASD to live the lives that they define as both meaningful and fulfilling.

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