Leslie O’Brien, LICSW, Program Manager, Internship

A new year brings about reflection and optimism for a fresh start. Reflection often leads us to think back to experiences that did not go well. Mistakenly, we consider these past events as “failures.” For young adults on the autism spectrum, these perceived failures can include: a poor interaction with a friend, an interview that didn’t move forward, a family feud, misinterpreting a conversation with a colleague or supervisor, confusion about job responsibilities, a low grade on a test, tardiness to an important meeting, etc.  Over the course of the year, these events can add up and often feel like a full tale of failure. Instead of looking back with regrets and misgivings, however, we can also use those experiences as valuable lessons, giving us a positive mindset to enter the New Year. The following are three steps of how to turn things around:

  1. Reframe: Rather than feeling embarrassment, guilt, or frustration about this “failure,” adjust your view on the experience. What did you learn from this event? How have you made changes to improve things since then? For example, a poor social interaction can teach you how better to approach a discussion or respond to a situation. Misreading a social cue, such as a change in tone of voice or body language, can lead to confusion or even inadvertent disrespect. Instead of beating yourself up about it, you can move forward by applying missed observations to your next interaction. Additionally, it may be helpful to check in with the person to make sure you understand his or her perspective.


  1. Plan: Too often we sit around wondering when an opportunity will come to us and can feel frustrated by an absence of opportunities. Instead, create one! It’s important to take the time to reflect on what you want and need based on your past experiences but the next step after reflection is to create a road map for the steps that follow. Looking for a job but the application or interview process isn’t going well? Who can you reach out to for some help adjusting your approach? A friend, loved one, therapist, or job coach? Looking to build new relationships? Research what is around you—groups to join, new places to go to meet others, talk to trusted people that can also give advice or introduce you to others. This can apply to most areas you wish to improve. Once you decide what you would like to work on, you can look to your current resources or find new ones to create your plan of making a positive change.


  1. Take Charge: You’ve reframed an experience to grow from it. You’ve sought out the resources to construct put together a roadmap to achieve your goal. Now, it’s time to start that plan! It can be helpful to create a reward system that can encourage you to keep working to meet your goal. If there are road blocks, motivation waning, or other things that could negatively impact your progress, it’s best to identify motivators in your life that can help you get back on track. These can be people, check points, rewards or other encouraging items. Each step forward is progress; you’re more likely to keep going if you celebrate your growth!


Sometimes it can feel “easier said than done” to change your mindset, build a plan of improvement and then follow it, but with a good support network, a structured preparation to track your movement, and self-appreciation, anything is possible. The largest barrier in most of our lives is actually ourselves. Forgive yourself for the “failures” in the past year. They were learning experiences, helped to develop who you are today and who you will become tomorrow.



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