Autistic people are a very diverse group, and their autism can affect each individual in different ways. This means there is no particular ‘right’ way to support autistic people. However, there are some things we can give consideration to in order to make life more manageable for autistic people:

Environment. If you are trying to make things easier for someone with autism, it’s always worth thinking about the immediate environment. People with autism can become overwhelmed by sensory stimuli, Here are some key areas to consider:

  • Is there a way to minimise distractions in the environment? – traffic noise, clocks ticking, fluorescent lights, buzzing fridges, fans etc. Can you close doors, windows, dim or switch off lights, us a quieter room and so on?
  • Try to maintain a predictable, low-arousal environment, especially when giving someone information. People with autism may find it difficult to cope when things are changed within a predictable environment, so keeping spaces free of clutter and unnecessary adornments can be helpful. Of course, everyone is different, so don’t try and force changes upon a person’s own living space
  • Try to manage group dynamics i.e. one person speaking at a time during meetings or group activities such as mealtimes, or watching TV
  • Ensure provision of quiet areas or ‘time-out’ spaces. Let the person know where they can ‘escape’ to for some peace, quiet and processing time

Communication. Out of all the different forms of communication, verbal communication is one of the most complex. People with autism process information differently, and may need extra time to process verbal information. Speech is also very fleeting compared to visual or written information, which can be a reason why some autistic people may repetitively seek reassurance about the same thing. You can think about:

  • Is verbal communication the person’s favoured approach? Some people may prefer written communication, emails, text messages etc. People may find conversation difficult to process or socially difficult.
  • If the person has difficulty reading or writing, can we convey the message using pictures, symbols or some form of communicative technology?
  • Keep language clear and direct where possible. Don’t try to imply things as this can easily be missed or understood. People might take things very literally, so always say what you mean; try to keep things to one point at a time when imparting important information or asking someone to make an important decision
  • Be patient – if someone isn’t responding, the might still be processing what you’ve communicating, they may be focussed on something else in the environment, or they have missed a social cue and not realise you are talking to them. Try to connect with people by using their name when initiating communication
  • Bear in mind that some autistic people may struggle with open questioning, or may need to know what options are available to them before making a decision
  • People with autism might struggle to express their feelings accurately through verbal communication. Looking at people’s actions, facial expressions and body language are far more telling than the words which come out of someone’s mouth
  • Just because someone doesn’t speak or has limited speech, it doesn’t mean they can’t communicate; sometimes we just need to learn how to listen. Lack of speech also doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t understand or think. Many non-verbal people have very good understanding and are excellent problem solvers

The person. It’s very common for non-autistic people to worry or feel anxious about how they should behave around people with autism. This is usually because people are nervous about causing upset, or getting things ‘wrong’. Yet one of the biggest complaints from autistic people is that they feel they are not accepted by others. These tips may help people to overcome this type of problem:

  • Be yourself; don’t overthink how to behave but make sure you’re accepting, responsive and reflective. Think about how your own behaviour and expectations might be affecting the person; if someone appears to be getting anxious, think about whether you are using too many words or asking too much of someone
  • Don’t be judgemental and accept individual ‘quirks’ – if it isn’t causing harm, how much of a problem is it? Many behaviours associated with autism are important coping strategies
  • Be patient, be empathetic. Think about what that person might be having to process
  • Many autistic people may use routines or rituals to help them cope with day-to-day life. It is important to try and support people to follow their routines, but this should be led by the person, not imposed on them. Although routines can be important, autistic people can still get bored and will often change things at their own pace
  • Don’t take offence if someone doesn’t appear to respond in the way you expect. People with autism may need additional time to process things, and may not show an emotional response until much later. Also, just because someone doesn’t show a response, it doesn’t mean that they are not feeling any emotion
  • If someone doesn’t follow the ‘rules’ explain their purpose. What effect might it have on the person or others if the rules aren’t followed? If you can’t answer that question, maybe it’s time to consider whether the rule is important at all
  • Autistic people rely on others to be truthful, so be honest, even if the truth may hurt
  • Be respectful and take a genuine interest. Recognise the positive aspects of the person
  • Don’t be patronising. People with autism can take new information on board very well – it’s all about the delivery!
  • Bear in mind that the world can be an overwhelming place for autistic people. Even small tasks and requests can feel like a huge challenge, so be patient, understanding and avoid putting the person under pressure. Sometimes, demand avoidance can have a severe impact on the life of the autistic person, and they may find themselves unable to take part in things they normally enjoy, or carry out essential tasks such as eating, drinking or personal care. This is known as Pathological Demand Avoidance, or PDA. You can read more about Pathological Demand Avoidance here