The 5 Needs: Wrapping Up | Organization for Autism Research

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Our perspective on life can change by simply looking through the lens of The 5 Needs. Wendy Swenson wraps up how impactful these basic needs are to live a powerful, loving, fun, free, and loving life.

We are all different, so how we meet The 5 Needs will be different too. Our stage in life, situations, abilities, and difficulties will have an impact on how we learn to meet these basic needs.

The 5 Needs can be explored and taught in any order.

In wrapping up this series, let’s begin with Freedom and Boundaries. Allow me to share two little stories:

When my son was younger, he was in his social skills class at school. The counselor was doing her best to explain how to make friends. When the students in his class asked him to stand by the door and watch until the teacher came, he did so (thinking it was a way to make friends). Several in the class became rowdy and silly. My son quickly reported that he saw the teacher coming. Thankfully, his teacher understood how autism affected his understanding. This little incident caused no harm. He had freedom (of choice) and did not know how to use it wisely. However, not understanding freedom and boundaries (and not being able to handle it, no matter how old we are) can prove to be dangerous, especially for those with special needs.

When my son became older, I was waiting with him for the bus to work, when another young man approached him (not seeing me) and asked him to go into the store and buy him beer and cigarettes. Once again, my son was trying to have freedom and be independent, but had no idea how to set boundaries.

Without my intervention, he could have done what was asked, and innocently set himself up for trouble.

Staying alive can be just as tricky. Staying alive takes a lot of planning, organizing, and support (financial, emotional, physical, and even spiritual). Be real about your child’s abilities and disabilities; know where they are and how to help them grow. It might be unconventional, it may be difficult, but it can happen. Teach what they are able to learn and let the rest go until they are ready. Be sure to include safety. Move slowly and steadily, but do encourage growth. This could mean learning to answer the phone or going to the store to get milk. It could also mean not opening the door unless given permission. Meet them where they are and gently help them grow.

Love and belonging are important. Safety can be a concern with those who have special needs when it comes to love and belonging; they can be so vulnerable. This basic need can be ignored, or go unnoticed with this group of folks.  Be sure to include healthy boundaries when teaching about love and belonging. When it comes to those with disabilities, teaching about love and belonging, teaching how to look outside of the “self”, and how to be friendly can all be difficult, but it can be done.

It is VERY important that we take care of ourselves. This is not just something to say, we must find ways to love ourselves. Loving ourselves is showing our children (at all ages) how to do the same (actions speak louder than words). This can be tricky. Find ways you can do it and do it.

Learning to identify our power is important. We have the ability to make choices, and this is an essential part of power. The power of choice, in work and play, make us into who we are and who we are going to become. As our children and young people are growing, let’s help them identify the power in their lives. We all have power. Not matter what our disabilities are or how “normal” we are, we all have power. It is a wonderful thing to see special education teachers allow their students to have the power of choice. The ability to know they have power is a gift that keeps on giving. Power comes in all sizes! Let’s learn to develop ours and help others do the same.

Fun matters. It matters a great deal to our health and sanity! Sometimes we just need to cry; sometimes we need to be silent. But sometimes, we just need to go have some fun. Fun does not need to last long to make an impact. A life with no fun is not living, it is merely existing. We often need more fun and so do our kids. Fun is individual, especially when it comes to learning to identify what is fun with those who have disabilities. Enjoy finding out what is fun for you and your child and do it often.

Our behaviors and attitudes are often a reflection of how we do or do not meet our needs, the same is true for others. Looking through the lens of The 5 Needs can help us learn about ourselves and others, maybe even view the world a bit different.

Enjoy the journey. Please write anytime; your thoughts matter to me.
For more information feel free to visit my website (

Wendy Swenson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and currently employed with Fauquier County Schools. She is a mother and grandmother, having personal and professional experience with people of all ages with special needs. She is available to teach your group more about how to use The 5 Needs in your work or home. Feel free to contact her through her website.


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