Autism affects the way a person communicates, socialises with others and perceives the world. Some people with autism can live independently while others need ongoing care and support to live full and enriching lives.
While each person is different with their own unique needs, we can support people with autism by empowering them to feel confident and helping them live their lives with independence and choice.
At Liaise, our specialist autism support services empower people with autism at different stages of life and in a range of circumstances. Here we share tips on how to support people with autism in a way that is tailored to their needs so that they can get the most out of life. We believe the best support is progressive, personal, positive and tailored to the unique needs of each person.
To provide the best support to the people in your life with autism, it’s important to understand a bit about the condition. Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people communicate and interact with the world.
Autism is characterised by social communication difficulties, repetitive behaviours, and sensory sensitivities. People with autism often have trouble understanding traditional forms of verbal and non-verbal language like gestures or tone of voice. This can lead to problems socialising or expressing their needs and wants.
The world can feel confusing and overwhelming for people with autism. This is why they often thrive on structure and routine. Changes to routines or new, big events can be stressful for people with autism and can trigger unpleasant emotions like anxiety and panic. Many people with autism use repetitive movements, such as rocking back and forth or flapping their hands, as a source of comfort in these moments or for simple enjoyment.
Autism can cause people to experience an over or under-sensitivity to certain sensory stimuli such as taste, touch, smell, light, temperature or sound. Something as simple as background music in a restaurant that may be bothersome to some can be especially painful or distressing for someone with autism.
Challenging misconceptions and stereotypes about autism is vital. It is a common myth that people with autism don’t like to socialise or make friends. Just because autism causes certain challenges with socialising does not mean people do not want to socialise. They simply need some positive support to build their confidence, encourage their independence and develop positive social reactions.
Tips for Supporting Someone with Autism
When supporting someone with autism remember the golden rule: you should never assume. Before doing something for the individual, always ask them first in their preferred communication style. For instance, don’t just close a window in their room or home, ask them if they would like for you to do so. The best support is one that encourages the individual to live their life with independence and personal choice.
How to Communicate with Someone with Autism:
- Use clear and direct language: Try to be clear and straightforward. Avoid using figurative language or any other language that may be confusing or interpreted literally.
- Use visual aids: Visual supports can be life-changing for some people with autism. Try and use pictures, symbols, or written instructions to help the person understand what you are trying to say. Visual schedules, social stories, and visual cue cards can be particularly helpful.
- Give time for processing: People with autism may need some extra time to process information and think about their responses. Be patient and avoid rushing or interrupting their thoughts.
- Be mindful of sensory sensitivities: Some people with autism may have sensory sensitivities that can affect their communication. Pay attention to their environment and minimise distractions or overwhelming sensory stimuli that could make it hard for them to focus. Creating a calm and sensory-friendly space can encourage better engagement.
- Focus on strengths and interests: Find common interests and use them as conversation starters. People with autism often have specific areas of passion or expertise. Use these topics to get them excited about communicating and expressing their passions.
- Be patient and non-judgmental: Not being able to express yourself the way you wish would be challenging for anyone. Be patient and understanding when speaking to someone with autism and be willing to adapt your approach to meet their needs.
- Use technology and alternative communication methods: Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) tools, such as communication apps or picture exchange systems, can help people with limited verbal communication skills. Explore and utilise these resources.
- Help them grow daily living skills: Our guide on helping people with autism and learning disabilities develop daily living skills is available to everyone for download.
Be Aware of Sensory Sensitivities
Individuals with autism often experience sensory sensitivities, such as heightened sensitivity to noise, touch, or certain textures. Everyday sounds that may be tolerable to others can be overwhelming, and certain textures or tactile sensations can cause discomfort or distress.
Understanding and accommodating these sensory sensitivities can greatly improve the comfort and overall wellbeing of people with autism. Here is an inspiring case study of how Liaise helped tailor the environment of a young person living with autism so they could enjoy a great quality of life.
Here are some tips on supporting sensory sensitivities:
- Reduce noise levels: Minimise background noise by using sound-absorbing materials, closing windows, or using white noise machines. Offer noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs as an option for noise-sensitive people.
- Optimise lighting: Use natural lighting when possible and adjust artificial lighting to reduce glare or harshness. Avoid flickering lights and consider using dimmer switches or softer lighting options.
- Provide sensory breaks and quiet spaces: Designate a calm and quiet area where individuals can retreat when they feel overwhelmed. Fill the space with comforting items like bean bags, weighted blankets, or fidget toys.
- Consider visual elements: Create a visually organised and clutter-free environment. Try to minimise excessive visual stimuli, such as bright colours or busy patterns.
- Offer sensory tools and materials: Provide access to sensory tools like stress balls, textured objects, or chewable items. These can help people regulate their sensory input and manage anxiety or stress.
- Accommodate touch sensitivities: Offer a range of clothing options that are soft, tagless, and comfortable. Respect their personal preferences for touch and allow people to choose the level of physical contact they are comfortable with.
- Be mindful of smells: Use unscented or lightly scented cleaning products and avoid strong fragrances in the environment. Ensure good ventilation to minimise odours.
Supporting Social Interactions
Many people with autism enjoy socialising and making new friends – they simply need some positive support to get the most out of their social lives. Some people with autism have limited speech or language skills while others have wonderful language skills but may find it difficult to understand sarcasm or interpret social cues.
Use these tips to support positive social interactions with our loved ones:
- Provide structured social opportunities: Encourage participation in social activities or groups that align with the person’s interests. This provides a supportive and organised setting where they can engage with their peers and practise social skills.
- Promote inclusive play and shared activities: Encourage children and peers to be understanding, patient, and inclusive. This benefits everyone as it fosters a sense of acceptance and belonging.
- Implement social skills practice: Use strategies like role-playing, social stories, and video modelling to teach and practise social skills. Provide plenty of positive praise and feedback. This can help people understand social cues and navigate social situations with less anxiety.
- Utilise visual supports: Use visual supports, such as social scripts or visual schedules, to help people with autism understand social expectations. Visual aids provide a simple representation of social rules making them easier to understand and comprehend.
- Create clear expectations: Communicate social expectations clearly and explicitly, breaking them down into manageable steps. Use concise and specific language to help people with autism understand what is expected of them in different social situations.
- Collaborate with professionals and support networks: Work closely with therapists, educators, and support professionals to develop socialisation strategies that are tailored to the individual.
Advice for Support Networks and Caregivers
It’s important that you look after yourself too. You can’t provide the support someone needs if you are tired or overwhelmed yourself. Here are some tips on how you can prioritise self-care and take time for yourself to recharge and rejuvenate:
Make time for yourself:
- Schedule regular breaks or respite care to ensure you have time to focus on your own well-being.
- Engage in activities that bring you joy and help you relax, such as hobbies, exercise, or spending time with friends and family.
- Allow yourself breaks from caregiving duties by delegating tasks to other trusted individuals, such as family members, friends, or respite care providers.
- Reach out to support networks, such as support groups or online communities. You’ll be able to connect with other caregivers who understand your experiences.
- Don’t hesitate to ask for help from family, friends, or professionals. Accepting support can alleviate some of the responsibilities of caregiving.
Practice stress management techniques:
- Learn and practice stress management techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, or meditation.
- Find healthy outlets for stress, such as journaling, engaging in hobbies, or listening to calming music.
Seek professional support:
- Consider seeking professional support through therapy or counselling. A therapist can provide guidance, coping strategies, and a safe space to process your emotions and challenges as a caregiver.
Learn More About Specialist Autism Support from Liaise
Our mission is to enrich the lives of people with autism and enable them to live happy, fulfilling lives. We help people live independently through person-centred autism support services and community-based living.