Autism is a neurological disorder that effects the brain and how we learn and communicate with others. The condition is called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and it is on a scale that ranges from mild to severe.
There are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK. Autism effects everyone differently, but some common traits are:
- Social difficulties – having difficulty understanding communication and interactions
- Development – difficulty in imaginative play and sharing
- Non-verbal communication – having difficulty understanding gestures and body language. This can include repetitive behaviour, echolalia (repeating words or phrases, stimming and lining up toys)
- Difficulties in maintaining, developing and understanding relationships – difficulty making friends
Our School of Inclusive Learning has put together some advice on how we can support people with autism at college, in work and in the wider community:
Try to keep changes to the environment to a minimum. If changes must be made, give as much warning as you can and manage those changes by communicating with the person. If you cannot foresee a change, understand that it might take the person time to adjust and settling into the change.
Use open ended questions when communicating so people with autism are given the chance to engage. Some people with autism take time to process information. Allow them time to think about what they want to say or communicate.
Take the time to listen and learn to know a person with autism, even just a little at a time. Find common ground that the individual has interest in to make them feel comfortable and safe.
Avoid using sayings or proverbs like ‘It’s raining cats and dogs.’ Phrases like this are often intrinsically embedded in the English language, but for some people with autism, colloquial language makes little sense. People with autism generally have problems with communication and will look for the literal meaning in language. So try to use clear and concise language that cannot be understood in a different way than you intended.
Don’t expect a person with autism to always fit into to your ideals and social norms. They don’t navigate the world in the same way we do so understanding and flexibility in this area is needed.