Autism

Autism is a spectrum condition. This means that being autistic will affect everyone differently. People of any gender, religion, social background and nationality can be autistic. Autism is a lifelong condition and cannot be treated or cured. Often autistic people feel that it is a fundamental part of who they are. All autistic people share certain difficulties that are highlighted below, but each autistic person will be affected in different ways.

Social imagination and flexible thinking

This means that an autistic person may not be flexible in the way they think about interests, routines, perspectives and rules. They may:

  • Not understand other people’s point of view or feelings

  • Be agitated by change

  • Not generalise information

  • Have a very literal understanding of things.

Social interaction

Autistic people can struggle to understand how to behave and interact with other people. They may:

  • Have difficulties understanding unwritten social rules relating to touch, proximity, turn taking and appropriate use of language

  • Be unaware of different ways to interact with different people, for example, friends, staff or strangers

  • Want to have friends and relationship but struggle to initiate and maintain them

Social communication

Autistic people can find it difficult to communicate effectively. They may:

  • Communicate for their own needs rather than for social engagement

  • Talk about their own interests regardless of the listener’s response

  • Not always want to communicate with others

  • Have difficulties ‘reading between the lines’ or picking up on the subtext of a conversation

These lists are not exhaustive and autistic people can experience a range of other difficulties including:

  • Sensory sensitivity – over or under sensitivity to lights, smells, touch, sounds, tastes, temperatures or pain

  • Repetitive behaviour and routines

  • Highly focused interests

  • Difficulty paying attention to people and tasks.

Some autistic people have related conditions such as a learning disability or mental health problems. All autistic people can learn and develop, and with the right support can be helped to live a fulfilling life.

Young adults with autism

What you can do

Around one in 100 people in the UK has autism. This means that it is quite likely that you know someone on the autistic spectrum. Here are some general points to keep in mind when interacting with someone with autism to help them.

Anxiety

A whole range of things can make a person with autism anxious including:

  • Social interaction

  • Unfamiliar surroundings

  • Travel

  • Loud noises

Someone can show they’re anxious by withdrawing or repeating physical actions. Following the tips below can help.

  • Use clear, direct language. It is better to be literal – avoid metaphors and sarcasm

  • Maintain a calm demeanour

  • Be aware of the sensory aspects of your surroundings. Try to meet somewhere quiet and not too bright or highly decorated

  • Don’t expect much eye contact

  • Be punctual. If you’ve arranged a time to meet then stick to it

  • Don’t make promises that you can’t keep

  • Forcing people with autism to be sociable won’t work

  • Try to avoid physically touching

  • Be patient and give the person time to process and respond

Planned meetings

  • Set out the time and agenda in advance and stick to it

  • Clearly set out a beginning, middle and end for any activities, tasks and meetings

  • Confirm the person’s understanding including anything they are expected to do

  • Work with the person’s preferred communication methods, such as diaries, visual planners or email

  • Give the person the opportunity to express anything that they may need you to do

Unplanned encounters and activities

  • Be polite and patient

  • If you do not already know the person well, clearly explain who you are

  • Explain why you are there and what you intend to do without using complicated terms or jargon

  • Ask the person if there is anything you can do to aid communication