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Helping autistic women thrive

Dori Zener (Toronto, Canada)

Advances in Autism

ISSN: 2056-3868

Article publication date: 26 March 2019

Issue publication date: 11 June 2019




The purpose of this paper is to outline a clinical framework developed for autistic women. INVEST (Identify Needs, Validate, Educate, Strengthen and Thrive) is a strengths-based neurodiversity therapeutic approach. Autistic individuals are treated with respect and are believed to have the capacity to make meaningful changes in their lives.


The author’s clinical experiences working as an individual, couple and family therapist specializing in girls and women with autism inform this paper. The innovative therapeutic approach will be described including reasons for seeking therapy, the theoretical underpinnings and case examples that bring each component of INVEST to life.


Women with autism are very responsive to a therapeutic process that validates their experiences. Helping individuals and their support systems learn more about autism and their unique profile can enhance understanding and self-acceptance. Strategies to increase emotional awareness and reduce victimization are emphasized. Understanding sensory triggers and executive functioning challenges enable individuals to make useful adaptations. Building skills and setting parameters on time and energy help to stave off autistic burnout.

Practical implications

The impact of the INVEST model goes beyond the therapist’s office and can be applied to multiple settings. All professionals have the opportunity to treat autistic women with respect, validation and an assumption of competence.


Clinical program are scarce for individuals with autism, especially women. The INVEST model is the beginning of a discussion of what can help autistic women thrive.



Zener, D. (2019), "Helping autistic women thrive", Advances in Autism, Vol. 5 No. 3, pp. 143-156.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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