8 Tips for Supporting People with Autism

8 Tips for Supporting People with Autism

People with autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may receive assistance from a Support Worker. If you work in a care and support role, there are several things that you can do to tailor your activities to suit someone with ASD. Building a rapport and achieving a positive relationship is possible when you know how to approach your interactions and time together.

Autism is a disability that people will have for their whole lives. Your interventions aren’t aimed at ‘curing’ ASD, but you can introduce activities and approaches that support autistic people in their daily lives. 

It’s worth keeping in mind that people with autism could have a learning disability and mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression. A holistic and person-centred approach is best, as every person is different. Let’s take a look at some tips to help anyone supporting someone with autism.  

1. Identify Their Learning Style and Needs

One way to connect with the person you’re supporting and tailor your approach is to discuss their learning style and needs. It’s an opportunity to value differences and identify the kinds of adjustments required. By observing and getting their input, you can work together to identify their learning style. It could be visual, tactile, auditory, technical, holistic, experimental or a mix.

Start by describing what that style means. For example, auditory could mean needing to hear about a task before starting. As well as adapting your support to be literal and explain everything, it’s also an opportunity to provide tools for other situations. When interacting with someone else, you can equip them with the request ‘Can you describe each step aloud to me?’

2. Collaborate

While there will be some fixed aspects in terms of the support required, there are many opportunities to adapt. Start with finding out how they prefer to communicate. Having followed tip one, you’ll be in a better position. However, prepare to use multiple approaches, including visual cards.

Plenty of the support you provide will also have flexibility. It’s time to discover what the person you are supporting likes to do, so you can incorporate activities to match their interests and have fun. An essential part of this discussion is finding out what they need. Even if the overall plan is set, there should still be room for discussion and evaluation along the way.

3. Art and Music Therapy

Art therapy and music therapy are two excellent activities with plenty of room to adapt to their style and interests. First and foremost, they are calming activities that can improve the overall well-being of the person with ASD that you’re supporting. 

As creative activities, they’re also an excellent outlet for thoughts and feelings. Once again, you can value different minds by playing to their strengths in the type of activities, be it percussion, clay or something else. As well as providing ways for them to express themselves, it’s a good way to introduce fun challenges where they can learn new skills.

4. Clear Communication with Visual Aids

If you’re still on your way to identifying their communication style or your collaboration is ongoing, there are some general tips to use. Clear communication is best when supporting someone with autism. Be direct; for example, instead of saying what not to do, always try to identify the action or behaviour. 

If something is mandatory, don’t ask it as a question; use an instruction. Many people with ASD take things at face value, so a question implies that it’s optional. Cards with visual aids are great ways of condensing information and delivering clear messages. You can design them for different tasks that you perform while supporting them, just include a relevant image and some text.

5. Have Backup Plans and Share Them

Change is challenging, and can be upsetting for people with ASD. While things can happen to change plans, it’s how you handle it that matters. For time or weather-dependent activities, come up with a fun alternative so you won’t be caught out at the last minute.

Most importantly, share that backup plan with the person you’re supporting in advance. It helps to manage their expectations, and the change won’t feel abrupt and unnerving. For example, if it rains on Wednesday, we won’t go for a walk but we will dance to our favourite songs instead.

6. Emotional Regulation Activities

A challenging part of autism for many people is identifying and handling emotions. You can use several tools to talk about how they are feeling and help them identify their emotions. The next step is to connect that to any associated behaviours, explore how they express themselves and identify what they need. 

Tools, such as a traffic light system or four cards representing the emotions sad, happy, don’t know and frustrated, are helpful. You can move to an advanced mood wheel with colours and more emotions. This activity can also focus on identifying and dealing with triggers. 

7. Consider Sensory Issues

Supporting someone with autism means meeting their sensory needs in and outside the home. A lot of noise, harsh lighting or constant environmental changes can lead to sensory overload and be uncomfortable for people with ASD.

Aim for areas with low lighting, comfy seating, consistency in terms of the stimuli and a quiet space to retreat as needed. These locations help avoid overstimulation and prevent them from getting distracted. 

8. Plan and Take Your Time

It’s easier to prevent challenging or uncomfortable situations than it is to deal with them afterwards. That’s why identifying triggers and getting to know what the person you’re supporting needs is essential. Planning includes avoiding sensory overload, crowded environments and waiting too long or rushing somewhere.

It can take people with ASD longer to process information. Ask for their input on the timescales required for specific actions. They might have follow-up questions or you might need to wait for them to think of responses to your questions. Give them time to slowly approach new and challenging topics with the possibility of writing their answers down. 

Tailor Your Support

With a few tools and some knowledge, you can adapt your approach to suit the person with autism that you’re supporting. Encouraging their input is invaluable in meeting their needs, valuing their thoughts and opinions and connecting with them. Focusing on well-being and practical tasks will mean they feel supported and happier in their daily lives.

When applying for Support Worker roles, many employers won’t require prior experience and will provide the correct training and tools to support you in your role too. You may want to reference some of the information in this guide as part of the recruitment process – to demonstrate a basic understanding and your openness to learning. Good luck!