Character Strengths and Disability

Research Articles

  • Reviews the research on character strengths and disability observing that when the disability field discusses “strengths” and “strengths-based approaches” it is usually referring to strength categories known as skills, interests, and resources, and not character strengths. This paper offers a framework of tools/concepts for the intellectual/developmental disabilities field to bring the latest character strengths science into assessment, interventions, and systems of support (Niemiec, Shogren, & Wehmeyer, 2017).
    Niemiec, R. M., Shogren, K. A., & Wehmeyer, M. L. (2017). Character strengths and intellectual and developmental disability: A strengths-based approach from positive psychology. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 52(1).
    • Preliminary work examining the inclusiveness of VIA Youth Survey for youth with disabilities. This study found that the assessment was reliable and meaningful for youth with and without disabilities and similar strengths profiles emerged (Shogren et al., 2017). Shogren, K. A., Wehmeyer, M. L., Lang, K., & Niemiec, R. M. (2017). The application of the VIA classification of strengths to youth with and without disabilities. Manuscript submitted for publication.
    • Examined the top character strengths of treatment program/school staff for students with autism and other developmental disorders and found kindness, honesty, humor, fairness, and love to be highest; follow-up interviews found that the staff use these strengths to motivate students, build other strengths and strong relationships, maximize progress and coping, avoid negative outcomes, and meet individuals’ unique needs (Korn, Woodard, & Tucker, in press).
      Korn, M. A., Woodard, C. R., & Tucker, C. A. (in press). Positive character traits of special education staff: Commonalities and applications. International Journal of Special Education.
    • A study offering psychometric support for using the VIA Youth Survey with people with intellectual/developmental disabilities (Shogren et al., in press).
      Shogren, K. A., Shaw, L. A., Khamsi, S., Wehmeyer, M. L., Niemiec, R., & Adkins, M. (in press). Assessing character strengths in youth with intellectual disability: Reliability and factorial validity of the VIA-Youth.  Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
    • Examined individuals with Asperger’s Disorder and neurotypical controls and found that the former were highest in judgment/critical thinking, creativity, and love of learning (cognitive strengths) while the latter were highest in kindness, fairness, humor, love (social/emotional strengths). It was the social and emotional strengths that had the highest positive connections with life satisfaction for the Asperger’s group (Kirchner, Ruch, & Dziobek, 2016).
      Kirchner, J., Ruch, W., & Dziobek, I. (2016). Brief report: Character strengths in adults with autism spectrum disorder without intellectual impairment. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 46, 3330-3337. DOI 10.1007/s10803-016-2865-7
    • Examines the film Finding Dory through the lens of character strengths to understand the capabilities and strengths of individuals living with disabilities (Mills & Sansom, 2016).
      Mills, E. M., & Sansom, L. (2016). What can dory do? Character strengths and disability. PsycCRITIQUES, 61(51), Np. DOI:
    • In a study that challenges deficit-based views of youth with intellectual/developmental disabilities, higher character strengths ratings were predicted by greater community activity involvement and use of speech as the primary communication mode, while challenging behaviors predicted lower ratings of character strengths (Carter et al., 2015).
      Carter, E. W., Boehm, T. L., Biggs, E. E., Annandale, N. H., Taylor, C. E., Loock, A. K., & Liu, R. Y. (2015). Known for my strengths: Positive traits of transition-age youth with intellectual disability and/or autism. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 40(2), 101–119.
    • Among many findings in a study of well-being among 389 youth with autism and/or intellectual disability, higher well-being ratings in one or more domains was predicted by youth character strengths, as well as faith, community involvement, and minority status (Biggs & Carter, 2015).
      Biggs, E. E., & Carter, E. W. (2015). Quality of life for transition-age youth with autism or intellectual disability. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. DOI 10.1007/s10803-015-2563-x
    • Character strengths and other positive psychology areas have been studied in people with dyslexia (Kannangara, 2015; Kannangara, Griffiths, Carson, & Munasinghe, 2015).
      Kannangara, C. S. (2015). From languishing dyslexia to thriving dyslexia: Developing a new conceptual approach to working with people with dyslexia. Frontiers in Psychology, 6.
      Kannangara, C. S., Griffiths, D., Carson, J., & Munasinghe, S. (2015). The relevance of cybernetics for a positive psychology approach to dyslexia. Kybernetes, 44(8/9), 1284–1297.

      • Discusses the evidenced-based, group therapy approach for people with intellectual/developmental disabilities called Interactive-Behavioral Therapy (IBT). Discusses modifications to include positive psychology elements including character strengths (e.g., case discussion of the “virtual gratitude visit”) (Tomasulo, 2014).
        Tomasulo, D. (2014). Positive group psychotherapy modified for adults with intellectual disabilities. Journal of Intellectual Disabilities.
        • Part of this paper discusses the value of using targeted interventions for character strengths to improve the lives of people with physical disabilities, such as those being treated in rehabilitation centers (Chan et al., 2013).
          Chan, J. Chan, F., Ditchman, N., Phillips, B., & Chou, C. (2013). Evaluating Snyder’s hope theory as a motivational model of participation and life satisfaction for individuals with spinal cord injury: A path analysis. Rehabilitation Research, Policy, and Education, 27(3), 187-205.
          • Examined the character strength of humor among people with Asperger's/autism and found that it was the 16th highest strength on average compared with typically developing individuals (matched by age, gender, and education) in which humor ranked 8th. In addition, humor was related only to the life of pleasure among people with Asperger's whereas humor was related to pleasure, engagement, meaning, and life satisfaction among typically developing individuals (Samson & Antonelli, 2013).
            Samson, A. C., & Antonelli, Y. (2013). Humor as character strength and its relation to life satisfaction and happiness in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, 26 (3), 477-491.
            • A pilot character strengths-focused group (4 sessions) for caretakers of children with cerebral palsy found significantly lower parent stress and higher hope at the conclusion of the group and at 1-month follow-up (Fung et al., 2011).
              Fung, B. K. K., Ho, S. M. Y., Fung, A. S. M., Leung, E. Y. P., Chow, S. P., Ip, W. Y., Ha, K. W. Y., & Barlaan, P. I. G. (2011). The development of a strength-focused mutual support group for caretakers of children with cerebral palsy. East Asian Archives of Psychiatry, 21 (2), 64-72.
            • Offers psychometrics on a measure of positive traits for people with intellectual/developmental disabilities, along with discussion of activities for boosting them (Woodard, 2009). Most of the 10 traits assessed are VIA character strengths, for example, forgiveness, humor, gratitude, courage, self-control, kindness, and optimism.
              Woodard, C. (2009). Psychometric properties of the ASPeCT-DD: Measuring positive traits in persons with developmental disabilities. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 27, 433-444.
              • Although it uses “dated” and no-longer-accepted terminology (see Wehmeyer et al., 2008), this article suggests that character strengths can play an important role in Down syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, and Williams syndrome (Dykens, 2006).
                Dykens, E. M. (2006). Toward a positive psychology of mental retardation. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 76(2), 185-193.
                • In a study of adolescents with and without cognitive disabilities, hope, optimism, locus of control, and self-determination were strongly correlated and both hope and optimism predicted life satisfaction in the youth with and without disability (Shogren et al., 2006).
                  Shogren, K. A., Lopez, S. J., Wehmeyer, M. L., Little, T. D., & Pressgrove, C. L. (2006). The role of positive psychology constructs in predicting life satisfaction in adolescents with and without cognitive disabilities: An exploratory study. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(1), 37-52.


                   Updated 9/19/2017