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Self-compassion is a healthy way of relating to ourselves. Self-compassion involves being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or being too self-critical.

In a recent research study, we found Autistic adults experience lower self-compassion than non-Autistic adults. We also found that Autistic people with higher levels of self-compassion experience higher levels of wellbeing and lower levels of anxiety and depression.

This study introduced Autistic adults to self-compassion concepts and skills using an online training program called the Aspect Self-compassion Program for Autistic Adults (ASPAA).

Can a self-guided online training program build the self-compassion skills of Autistic adults?

The Aspect Self-compassion Program for Autistic Adults

ASPAA is a self-guided online training program designed by Autistic and non-Autistic researchers from the Aspect Research Centre for Autism Practice. An Autistic advisory group provided feedback on all program modules.

ASPAA is grounded in evidence-based interventions such as the Mindful Self-Compassion program (Neff & Germer, 2018) and Compassion-Focused Therapy (Gilbert, 2014).

Screenshot of the Aspect Self-compassion Program for Autistic Adults

ASPAA consists of five modules:

  1. Understanding self-compassion
  2. Benefits of self-compassion
  3. Mindfulness
  4. Finding your compassionate voice
  5. Accepting our experiences

The research

Thirty-nine Autistic adults trialled ASPAA over a five-week period. Participants completed measures of their self-compassion levels, amount of positive and negative emotions, symptoms of anxiety and depression, and emotion regulation difficulties before and after completing the self-compassion program.

The program included a 15-minute catch-up with a researcher each week (email, zoom, or phone).

What we learnt

Findings from study of self-compassion online program

A scientific paper titled, A qualitative exploration of an autism-specific self-compassion program: The ASPAA is published in the journal, Autism.

Making a difference

This is the first research study to explore whether or not Autistic adults’ can learn self-compassion skills through a self-guided online self-compassion training program.

Improving Autistic adults’ knowledge and understanding of self-compassion and helping them practise self-compassion skills can improve not only their self-compassion levels but also their emotion regulation and mental health.

Feedback from the Autistic participants was used to make improvements to the program. Two versions of ASPAA will be available; a self-guided version for Autistic adults and another version especially for clinicians and therapists to support their Autistic clients.

In September 2023 we will run a professional workshop for clinicians and therapists on how to use ASPAA with their Autistic clients.

Research team

Dr Ru Ying Cai, ARCAP

Dr Chris Edwards, ARCAP






Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect)