An Introduction to The 5 Needs | Organization for Autism Research

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This blog post introduces a series of forthcoming posts by Wendy Swenson, MSW, LCSW about “The 5 Needs” and how they apply to individuals with autism. Her first post, which addresses fun, will be published on August 20.

An Introduction to The 5 Needs

Have you heard of The 5 Needs? The 5 Needs are basic things we all require in life. How we meet each need differs of course. Our situations, circumstances, age, abilities and background will help determine how we meet these needs. The ways we meet the needs changes with time.

The 5 Needs were taught to me through William Glasser’s organization back in 2001. Since that time I have written five workbooks and an activity guide, too, helping others understand The 5 Needs. I have had the privilege of working with school counselors and teachers (regular and special education), leading small groups, teaching job training classes, and using the work with individuals in private practice too.

I believe an understanding of these basis needs matters in our lives and can help us make better choices, understand others, and allow us to grow personally and professionally. Our behaviors are often a direct reflection of how we do or do not meet these needs in life. We are never too young or too old to learn about the basic needs. Learning to identify the needs can lead to identifying why we do the things we do and can therefore lead to change when needed. Understanding the basic needs can help influence how we teach others, too. We can also develop empathy as we understand the basic needs in life; not giving an excuse for poor choices but sometimes gaining an explanation as to why a person may do what they do (ourselves and others).

The 5 Needs are:

  1. Staying Alive: This can be anything from suicide prevention to basic needs like food and water and everything in-between, depending on the audience.
  2. Love and Belonging: This is about how we need to fit in, to belong, and to know we matter. Most of us get this in our original family, some do not. Some people who don’t seem to have this need often do, but are unable to express it. We can teach friendship and social skills with this need, too.
  3. Freedom and Boundaries: This can include everything from TV time, video time, job hours, study time, sexual conduct, and any variety of ways we need to learn about our freedom, responsibilities, and boundaries.
  4. Power: This is about our self-talk, the belief in ourselves, and the ways we develop our inner strength. It can include laughter, yoga, meditation, and other ways we develop power from the inside out.
  5. Fun: This seems to be common sense to some and a surprise to others. This is where we begin this series on The 5 Needs.

As you begin to explore The 5 Needs, make it personal!  See how you have met these needs before and how you are meeting them now. Also, explore how your children, friends, and other family members meet these needs. It can be very interesting to inquire how grandparents met these needs when they were growing up too. I look forward to sharing more on each need with you.

About the author: Hello, my name is Wendy Swenson. I am a mother of three grown children and a grandmother, too. One of my children came to me by way of adoption. He is currently 32 years of age and has high-functioning autism. His life has been a miracle. I will tell you more about him in time. I work full-time as a school social worker and am a licensed clinical social worker. I have also authored six books on The 5 Needs we all share in life. I earned my Masters in Social Work from Southern University at New Orleans, where I grew up. My son and I moved to Virginia in order to receive better services for him in 2001. He is working part time now and has a wonderful job coach.

You can learn more about Wendy and “The 5 Needs” at her Web site.


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