The 5 Needs in Life: Still Going and Growing | Organization for Autism Research

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“Do you remember the story about the Little Red Hen?”

“Yes, I do.”

That story is why I want to learn to cook and want to learn to shop more. We can’t expect to eat if we don’t do our part. That’s a kid’s story but it’s really true for all of life.”

“So true. I am glad you get that; you are doing really good with it all too.”

That was a piece of a conversation with my son on the way to work recently. You never know what someone is thinking and the connections they are making.

My son, “Frank” (not his real name), is now 39 years of age. He has overcome so many odds, having a diagnosis of autism, and he has beaten negative predictions about his future abilities. Just shows us, we never know. This baby boy, who came to us through the gift of adoption as an infant, would, like all babies, grow and develop in his own timeframe. Frank required ongoing interventions, but he exceeded expectations and continues to do this today, with supports. He continues to teach me as well as others in his life.

However, some days are not so easy. As a mom, I get concerned about how Frank is really doing with his needs in life. Yet Frank seems content with his life for the most part, even as he learns and grows all the time too. I have come to realize that Frank, like each of us, has to learn to meet his own needs in his own ways. What may seem like a lack in his life from my perspective, may not seem like a lack to him at all.

The 5 Needs in Life: Fun, Power, Freedom & Boundaries, Love & Belonging, Staying AliveSince the series on The 5 Needs was published here years ago, we continue to work on meeting these needs, as we can, how we can. The Little Red Hen story represents one of the ways Frank connects with the need for staying alive. In the story, the animals learn that in order to eat, they need to help; for Frank, this translates to him learning to cook his own food and learning to shop. Both are works in progress. He also has taken charge of his physical fitness by learning to make healthy food choices and working out regularly.

Frank has also learned about the needs of freedom and boundaries through working out. Frank used to do far too much cardio; now, he has a balanced approach. Frank had a positive relationship with a trainer, working 1:1 successfully for several years (until COVID turned life upside down). Frank learned a great deal and continues to use what he learned.

Love and belonging needs are met in Frank’s life in ways that work for him. Frank has developed good relationships at both of his jobs and with his exceptional job coach. Frank fills the need for belonging through his relationships at work and with a men’s group he attends through church. During COVID, the men’s meetings were held via zoom. When asked if he liked the ZOOM meetings, Frank quickly said, “It is plastic and synthetic.” Still, he did his best to stay connected.

Frank meets his need for power in a variety of ways, including listening to informative audio books, watching YouTube videos, and learning German via Duolingo. Frank feels empowered by learning new things because his self-esteem increases. Learning also empowers him to hold interesting conversations about many different topics that he and other people care about. Working out is also a way he meets the need for power. Being physically fit helps Frank take ownership of his health. Because of his medical and biological history, Frank is motivated to do his best to stay healthy. Because of his fitness, Frank is better able to do his work in yards and in cleaning, too. Music is another source of power in Frank’s life. Frank likes heavy metal music because it says what he feels. This makes him feel heard in his own way, and being heard is powerful. Frank has also learned the power of classical music to help him relax.

The need for fun is met by Frank through camping, listening to podcasts and music, and watching movies. Hiking and fishing are also a source of fun for Frank.  Frank really enjoys being with family, and there are relationships he enjoys outside the family as well.

Unlike Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Dr. Glasser’s five needs in life are more circular. We can often meet several needs at the same time. An example of this is filling the need for love and belonging can be done while having fun. Frank does this well. Like people, the needs don’t fit into nice boxes.

Sometimes we may put our needs and beliefs on others, without realizing it, and expect them to meet their needs exactly like we do. We may have the same basic needs, but we do not necessarily meet them in the same ways. Frank has sure taught me a great deal about that. Nevertheless, if we look closely, we can often find the five basic needs represented in most people’s lives.

Taking time to be aware and to learn to identify ways we are meeting our needs (or not) can make a difference in our lives. Enjoy the journey! We certainly do.


Wendy Swenson has retired from working as a school social worker. Her passion for The 5Needs in Life has not gone away. Her website is www.the5needs.com. Wendy lives with her husband, their son, and their dog in Jeffersonton, Virginia. She enjoys being with family and friends and in nature.


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