Have you ever felt unprepared when communicating with an autistic person? Are you unsure about what words to say to make them feel comfortable and included?
An estimated 1 in 70 Australians are on the autism spectrum. This number is set to increase due to better awareness and higher levels of diagnosis. So there's never been a better time to learn how you can be more considerate towards autistic people and the disabled community more generally.
To help, here are some tips on interacting with people with disability regardless of whether you are a disability support worker, or have a friend, colleague or family member with disability.
What is autism spectrum disorder?
Everyone is unique in terms of how their disability affects them, and how they respond to a wide range of situations. This is also true for autistic people (hence the term "spectrum").
Typically, autistic people have difficulties with social interactions, verbal and non-verbal communication as autism affects the way information is taken in and stored in the brain. Additionally, many autistic people also have sensory sensitivities such as over or under sensitivity to sound, smell, sight, touch, taste, pain or temperature.
Autistic people often have a deep interest in particular topics, like trains, gardening or particular animals. They may have a good memory, an eye for detail, and strong logical or visual thinking skills.
Tips for being considerate to autistic people
Now that you know a little more about autism, let's explore some ways you can be more considerate towards people with disability. Put yourself in their shoes, analyse the situation you are in, and think about how you can change your own language and behaviour to make autistic people feel more comfortable.
Ask if they prefer identify-first or person-first language
You'll notice that there are different ways to refer to someone with autism spectrum disorder, like autistic person, person with autism, and person with ASD.
A growing number of people and organisations prefer "autistic person" - this is identity-first language that recognises that being autistic is a big part of someone's identity. Others prefer the person-first term "person with autism" which acknowledges the individual ahead of their diagnosis.
Ultimately, it's best to ask the person you're talking to what term they prefer, like how you may ask someone what pronouns they use.
Address them the same way as anyone else
Just because someone is autistic does not mean they have limited cognitive skills. They may understand you perfectly, but have difficulty responding to your questions. So make sure to respond in a clear, concise and direct manner, without talking down on them as if they're a child.
Be an active listener
Like you would with anyone else, if an autistic person is talking to you, be respectful and listen attentively. Ask them appropriate questions, and show them you care.
When it comes to working or interacting with autistic people, we can reduce the need to plan and explain every day by instead building predictable environments and settling into a routine. This sets expectations, creates a structure for daily life and provides a sense of comfort and security. When we formulate and commit to a routine, this gives us a feeling of control and helps us relax instead of fretting about what will happen next.
If a schedule needs to change, give them plenty of notice.
Avoid shocks & surprises
It is always best to inform autistic people about what is going to happen before it occurs. This can help people who struggle to pick up subtle cues and are most comfortable when they stick to a known and well-established routine. Also keep in mind that some autistic people may take a very literal understanding of what has been said. For example, when asked to ‘get lost’ as in go away, an autistic person may become confused and believe you are telling them to literally try to get lost.
Move to a safe environment
Some autistic people may feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable in certain environments, like a busy shopping centre. You can help them feel safe by moving to a different location (like a quiet room) or lending them noise cancelling headphones. It's also good to be aware of what situations may be triggering to them so you can be prepared.
Provide or receive autism support with Like Family
Like Family is an NDIS registered provider specialising in social and community support. We help numerous autistic people to build social skills, increase independence and get out and about in the community.
We do this by matching them with highly vetted autism support workers (Social Carers) based on relevant skills, experience and location. Whether you need an exercise buddy, a lift to an appointment or someone to go to the movies with, we can help!
Sign up below to become a Member or Social Carer with Like Family today.