We discussed what autism is in a previous news piece: Understanding Autism.
This is a follow-up guide on how to improve communication with autistic people.
Everyone is different, and we all talk and behave in unique ways. It’s what makes us, us! Which is a wonderful thing, but it can also make communication confusing, especially for autistic people.
Understanding how autistic people typically communicate is one of the most helpful ways to reduce confusion for everyone.
By having a general knowledge of autism and communication, it’s a lot easier to discover the joy of good conversation with someone who’s simply talking in a ‘different’ way – whether they’re a family member, friend, work colleague or somebody else.
Understanding autism and communication
It is widely perceived that people with autism struggle with social skills, that they are shy or unfriendly, or that they cannot feel or express emotions.
These are unfair and untrue myths.
Instead, an autistic person may be unable to find the right words to start a conversation, they may not understand body language and social cues, and they may deal with emotion internally rather than expressing it outwards.
Autistic people cannot quickly adapt to conversations or respond to words in the same way neurotypical people do. Instead, they are simply communicating in their own way.
Because autism is a spectrum, there is always variety in the way autistic individuals will behave. Autistic people are not deliberately being strange or unsociable, but they are constantly finding the best ways to express themselves.
How autistic people may communicate
People with Autism Spectrum Disorder can use several different techniques to communicate and learn how to converse…
- Non-verbal communication – pointing, gesturing, physically moving someone to the thing they need, writing words
- Sounds and crying – due to not understanding, feeling frustrated or being unable to use the right words
- Echolalia – the term given to repeating phrases and words they have heard in the past, hoping these phases ‘fit’ the current situation
- Picking out keywords or phrases – then focusing on the literal meanings and responding accordingly to those words only
For an autistic person, focusing on the literal meaning of specific words creates a reply that makes sense to them, but it may seem out of place in the conversation to a neurotypical person. The analysing of words and not tones is why people with autism can have trouble understanding sarcastic language, metaphors, and humour.
They may also…
- Change topics quickly – it can be difficult for individuals to stay on topic as they deal with incoming stimuli. It may seem like they are avoiding something or are unfocused. Yet it is usually the other way round, as the mind moves quickly to deal with each input as they come in.
- Make no eye contact – autistic people can talk with you but may struggle to talk to you, often not making eye contact. Again this is not an unfriendly action.
Avoiding eye contact may help an autistic person talk clearly as it takes away all the stimuli that come with looking into the eyes which can cause an overload of information. Some people with Autism Spectrum Disorder may prefer to speak with their eyes shut, to focus purely on the words of the conversation.
Children with ASD may have their unique mannerisms such as…
- Using made-up words, which are called neologisms, instead of words they don’t know or when they are unsure how to express themselves.
- Using the same words over and over.
- Muddling up words and pronouns, for example referring to themselves as ‘you’ and other people as ‘I’.
These are often a child’s attempt to make some communication happen, but an adult may not understand. This may lead to tantrums, aggression or self-harming behaviour because they are misunderstood, confused or frightened.
How to talk to an autistic person
By looking at how people with autism may communicate, we know that their understanding of conversations relies heavily on language and words (or lack of words) and not the use of others facial expressions, body language or subtle tones.
One of the best ways to accommodate this is to speak with clear and concise words, saying simple and plain sentences that cannot have more than one meaning.
For autistic children
This is especially true for children, who have not yet learnt about metaphors, double meanings and sarcasm.
Language is often simplified for all children, but it is perhaps more important that autistic children are spoken to…
- Using short sentences and blunt instructions
- With less mature language, using sounds like ‘yuck’ and physical actions
- Alongside visual cards or tablets with pictures
- With an exaggerated tone of voice to make a point and highlight important words
- With gaps in sentences for them to fill in and finish
- Using prompts and questions to encourage responses
- With patience and time to respond
- At the right moments when they are not engaged with something else and are calm
For autistic people of all ages
Several things can be done whilst talking…
- Say their name at the beginning of a conversation, question or important statement
This makes sure they are paying attention instead of blocking out background noise. If you don’t know their name, take a moment to find out (which is also polite and makes a connection). The signs that someone is paying attention will be different for different people.
- Make gentle eye contact if they will allow it
This encourages nonverbal communication and helps autistic people develop their skills in understanding facial expressions and emotion.
- Say what you mean and be direct
As previously mentioned, autistic people can be literal when it comes to wording, so using figures of speech can be confusing.
Instead, speak plainly with no unnecessary details. Be clear and concise with no slang, nuance or sarcasm. Don’t dumb down the language for adults but keep in mind they may analyse every word and work out the best response.
- Don’t use open-ended questions
“Did you have a good day?” is an open-ended question we all hear and ask regularly. But it can be difficult or impossible for someone with autism to answer open-ended questions like this and they should be avoided.
Questions which are necessary and require a specific answer are much better. It is also good to include options or choices to allow them to come to a sensible answer.
- Avoid ‘information overload’
An autistic person can struggle to filter out less important information which can lead to them being overloaded and nothing is processed.
If it seems like this is happening, or the person is anxious, say very little. If something must be said, use minimal words very slowly with pauses and no questions. This allows them to catch up and deal with stimuli.
- Be patient
If it’s necessary to wait for a response to a question, then give them time. If someone does not respond straight away, it could be they need more time to absorb and process the information.
- Accept the unexpected
We know that autistic people may use gestures, sounds, echolalia or that they may process and respond to specific words. They may communicate with some or all of these.
So if an individual does or says something unexpected, or changes the subject, do not be alarmed or try to fight it. It’s important to listen and work out what they may mean. Keep being patient, go with the flow of the conversation and allow the individual to communicate in their way.
- If speaking doesn’t work, try writing or getting visual
People with autism are often happy to restart the conversation again on paper, using written words or perhaps drawing fun pictures to keep the situation light-hearted. Big movements can also help.
Provide support and help with communication
It’s always good to provide meaningful feedback, at the right time in the right way. Such as when teaching children how to communicate or helping an adult after they unknowingly communicate inappropriately.
Autistic people, generally, welcome feedback and would rather receive direct, honest help instead of working out what negative facial expressions or body language mean.
Providing support that is non-judgmental and clear can help someone with ASD learn to safely navigate social interactions and develop their communication skills.
More tips for communicating with autistic people
- Avoid using terms of endearment
For example, “honey” or “love” or “mate” as they can be confusing like sarcasm and slang. Although the speaker may mean nothing by these terms, an autistic person may be uncomfortable or may take them literally.
- Talk about what they want to talk about
This is especially true for children. Trying to force the conversation in a certain direction is not a successful approach. Instead, talk about what they are doing and let them lead the subject.
Another trait of autism is obsession, which means talking a lot about one particular thing. Sticking to the topic they want to discuss keeps the conversation going and helps them develop.
- Keep ‘information overload’ in mind
As we have already mentioned, an autistic person deals with stimuli as it arrives and can find it difficult to filter out the less important information, causing overload which may result in any number of outcomes.
We discussed speaking slowly with pauses if needed, but if it seems like a conversation is becoming distressful it can also be helpful to remove visual communications. Whilst eye contact and movements are usually a good thing, during an overload they become an unwanted stimulus.
It is also good to be wary of the surrounding environment. Could background noise be causing overload? Are too many people talking at once? Finding a quiet place reduces sensory input and will help avoid overload.
- Address him or her as you would any other adult
An autistic person may understand every word said but then may have difficulty responding verbally. It is therefore important not to assume the person has limited skills or abilities – they should be treated the same way a neurotypical person would be. It’s also important to remember not to speak as if the person is not in the room when in a group setting.
As everyone is different, we can use these points only as a guide and should get to know a person to fully understand how to communicate with them.
This is something we keep in mind at Calvert Trust Exmoor during our accessible breaks. Guests have the same instructor throughout their stay which allows a bond to build, which helps autistic people enjoy the activities.
We have many examples of people with autism enjoying a break with us over on our Guest Stories page.
If you’d like more information about how we are autism-friendly, please call 01598 763221.
Autism is often referred to as ASD, Autism Spectrum Disorder. It is not one, but a range of disorders. Consequently, each individual who has autism has different levels of sensory sensitivity to one another.
The National Autistic Society has provided some helpful tips for those who would like to introduce self-care goals to an autistic person’s routine. In this blog, we aim to share these.
Why Have Goals?
Setting goals, whether big or small, can act as a motivational tool. It is a way to make changes accessible by implementing little lifestyle habits.
Having goals can open up the opportunity to feel a sense of independence in certain aspects of our lives as they may offer us a sense of control. Lots of small goals over time have the potential to lead to changes beyond what we could have ever imagined from the initial journey we set ourselves.
Introducing Self-Care Goals
It is understood that adults who have autism can find the skill of organisation challenging. By using prompts and breaking down tasks to manageable steps, it can help introduce tasks to someone who has an autism as a priority.
This could be things such as :
• Getting dressed
• Brushing teeth
• Brushing hair
Keep Steps Small and Achievable
This is a method which the National Autistic Society has recommended. It is the process which teaches a skill in manageable steps. By breaking down a simple activity, it can help achieve the overall aim.
For example, brushing your teeth:
• First, take the toothbrush
• Next, rinse the toothbrush with a little bit of water (this step may be an area of debate!)
• Then put a ‘pea-size’ amount of toothpaste on the toothbrush
• Then a drop of water (Again, debatable!)
Again, this is suggested by the National Autistic Society. This implements the steps of the task by working from the last step backwards.
Maintain a ‘Sensory Record’
As you try to introduce small goals, it is recommended to keep a diary of the reactions caused by certain tasks or scenarios. By taking note of these occurrences, the process can be reviewed and adapted in the future to accommodate the triggers of unease and uncertainty discovered by these records. Our blog 8 Receptive Toys to Aid Autism may offer some ideas on how to help ease some symptoms of anxiety for those who have autism.
An excellent way to implement things, especially to children, is to use illustrations. By leaving pictures as reminders, it may prompt them to follow the procedure displayed. For example, the National Autistic Society has suggested putting a diagram, or list, in the bathroom which demonstrates the steps when brushing teeth. You can use pictures found online or create your own!
The National Autistic Society suggests that using a mixture of physical, gestural and verbal prompts can help people remember the order they need to accomplish the breakdown of tasks.
As the name suggests, this form of prompt is to accompany the person as you complete the activity.
For example, holding the toothbrush together and squeezing toothpaste onto it.
This is where you can pretend to do the task to prompt them to follow through with the action.
For example, miming brushing your teeth as they brush their teeth in real life.
This is when you remind the person of the next step by saying it to them.
For example, ‘rinse the toothbrush and put it in the holder.’
In order to help schedule these priorities, providing a calendar is a handy tool for people to refer to and act as a reminder.
To encourage people to achieve their goals, you need to keep it motivational! One of the more successful ways of doing this is through praise. No matter what the task, even if it may seem very minimum, an achievement is an achievement and should be received with lots of praise.
By knowing what the person appreciates, you can make the encouragement purposeful to the individual. This may be through verbal praise or a small gift, for example!
If there is ever a decline in looking after oneself, this could be a sign of some underlying issues concerning their mental health. This could be anything from anxiety or depression to forms of OCD.
If you feel this may be the case, the National Autistic Society recommends contacting the Autism Helpline, where they can direct you further on the most suitable procedures to take.
Autism Helpline Number: 0808 800 4104
They are available:
• Monday to Thursday 10 am-4 pm
• Friday 9 am-3 pm
Hopefully, the tips mentioned in this blog will offer some helpful pointers in accomplishing self-care goals! If you have any other recommendations, we would love to hear about them on our social media channels!
Here at Calvert Trust Exmoor, we love to encourage all our guests to achieve their ambitions and intend to help those who want to set goals while staying with us.
We provide daily timetables to ensure there is a set routine for our guests. We also encourage the use of our social areas, where guests can meet and support one another before and after sessions. We have great pride in all our professionally certified instructors, who encourage independence when supervising activities by using physical, gestural and verbal prompts.
If you would like more information about the Devon activity breaks we offer and are interested in booking a holiday with us, please feel free to contact us on 01598 763221 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sensory and receptive toys can be helpful for children and adults on the autism spectrum as they may assist in easing feelings of anxiety by occupying one or more of the five senses.
Various toys which are specifically designed to assist those who have autism are available. The items below may not all be specially designed with an autism spectrum condition in mind but are considered as helpful by charities which support those have autism. These items and ideas are what our article will focus on.
As a site that offers accessible holidays in Devon, our facilities include a sensory room which is available as a safe space to those who have autism and may need an area away from overwhelming surroundings.
The Purpose of Receptive Toys
Receptive toys can be used to interact with one or more of the five senses:
They are produced with the aim to assist with physical or cognitive development and to attain the attention of a child who may feel overwhelmed by surroundings which feel chaotic. If you would like to learn more about autism, please take a look at our blog on Understanding Autism.
There are many projectors on the market which are designed to create a safe-feeling space through ambient lighting. The OPTI Aura Sensory Projector is a leading brand built by the same company which produced lighting for shows, including The Who and Pink Floyd. Testimonials of their positive impact can be found on their website, including from the parents of children who live with special needs, such as autism. The projector has been described as being especially useful when aiding with sleep routines due to the relaxing environment they create. Colour torches can also offer similar features, at a smaller price tag.
A bubble machine can be considered a multi-sensory toy which can intrigue a range of ages. By creating bubbles, it can be enjoyed on its own or incorporated into games. For example, tracking games by following the bubble, chasing the bubbles and catching the bubbles which exercise tracking and motor skills. If your child prefers to try things themselves, a bottle of bubbles is also a great and cheaper alternative.
Sensory Blackout Tent
A blackout tent can be personalised to each individual and can be made extra comfortable with beanbags to create a secure and safe space.
For those who like to be visually stimulated, colourful books can be satisfying. Dr Seuss is commonly named as a fantastic author with this in mind. Other authors have specially-dedicated books to help children and adults who have autism. Lynette Dare is an author who specialises in creating humoristic and personalised books for autistic children. She began writing to help her son, who was on the autism spectrum and has created a selection of beautifully colourful books which help make everyday situations relatable for children who can feel overwhelmed due to the effects of autism.
Fidget Toy Cube
A small toy which is ideal for going anywhere, the fidget cube is designed with a total of nine movements and textures to occupy those who are prone to distraction.
Light-Up Fidget Spinner
An item you may be familiar with, the fidget spinner has become a popular toy for many children and adults everywhere. It has been promoted as relieving feelings of anxiety by occupying the hands. With additional lights, it may engage the brain through its visual appeal.
Research has indicated that music stimulates both hemispheres of the brain and consequently has been used in therapy for children who have autism. As music doesn’t necessarily require the use of a spoken language, children and adults can feel encouraged to exercise communications through the sound of music.
One for the garden, a swing is a fun and soothing activity which some children and adults may enjoy. This activity is something we have adapted here at Calvert Trust Exmoor; we have an indoor giant swing which we have introduced to our site as a sensory experience for all to enjoy. Our adaptive harnesses and supports can be customised for each individual and fulfil any requirements they may need. It is used to help with feelings of self-belief and confidence.
Here at Calvert Trust Exmoor, we are dedicated to providing holidays that can be enjoyed by all. If you have any suggestions or recommendations about toys in relation to autism, we would love to hear about them! Contact us on our social media channels.
SPELL has been created by the National Autistic Society as a guideline to help people communicate and understand the needs of people who are on the autistic spectrum. Here at the Calvert Trust Exmoor, we believe in making the world an accessible place for all. As a dedicated site that includes holidays for disabled visitors, we would like to spread awareness of autism to make life feel more accommodating for those who are affected by the disorder. In this article, we explain the SPELL structure and how it can help communications for those who have autism.
What is SPELL
SPELL has been created by integrating the five essential factors which have proven to be the most effective communicators for people with autism. SPELL aims to improve the lives of those with autism by providing surroundings that feel more considerate and approachable through accessible communications. It is a structure that can be applied throughout the autistic spectrum, such as Asperger syndrome.
SPELL is broken down into five letters, to explain the implications. These are:
Positive Approaches and Expectations
Below we will discuss each part more in-depth.
Providing a setting that feels structured, and doubtful of surprises, will help someone with Autism. The reason for this is because many people who have the condition do not react well to a change in routine.
Supplying information in a structured way is made easy with visual aids. These can be simple pictures and words of the daily routine, organised in a list. This can help someone with autism manage the expectations of the day by seeing them beforehand in a clear format. It can also help to reinstate a feeling of independence and control over a situation because expectations have been communicated, subsiding feelings of stress and nervousness.
Therefore, creating a safe and stable environment can significantly improve the overall wellbeing of someone with autism. Over time, when a routine is broken due to unavoidable change, someone with autism may be able to adapt to the changes due to the feelings of care from stability previously provided.
Positive Approaches and Expectations
By ensuring people feel encouraged and motivated to do well, progress can advance considerably for anyone who feels esteemed by positive comments and achievable goals. By creating realistic targets for people with autism, which are based on a thorough evaluation, a person can feel more confident through the recognition and development of the natural aptitudes of their personality.
For someone who has autism, this is incredibly important for them to feel a sense of accomplishment and the desire to further their abilities. The National Autistic Society states that many people who have autism struggle with verbal communication and therefore do not feel compelled to push themselves and progress in this proficiency. As a result of feeling of incompetent, the idea of trying something new is avoided even further. By practising how to overcome these scenarios, the sense of anxiety can be reduced. Eventually, people can acquire the ability to acknowledge new situations and set themselves higher goals that will support their overall wellbeing.
Empathy is a humans best route to understanding. By taking the time to think about how an individual with autism may see the world, it could potentially help you to unlock what may cause them anxiety as well as what may help them to communicate better. Those who are more successful in creating a trusting relationship with someone who has autism communicate in a relaxed, consistent, well humoured, logical and empathetic manner.
Environments should feel relaxed and well systematised to maintain a sense of focus and decrease the chance of distraction. This may include the level of volume in a room, smells, lighting, clear room layout and colour schemes. Any communications should remain clear enough so that they don’t overwhelm an individual. Some people with autism may need an increase of time to digest information, and this needs to be respected in any settings. Sensory rooms are used for those people who require extra support to feel calm. Each individual with autism will vary on this.
By viewing people with Autism and their support network as a unit, anyone who is significantly involved in their life such as parents, carers, siblings, teachers and medical professionals, should look to disperse information as a team to keep communications up. Parents should always be informed of all developments and situations, and are often viewed as partners. By keeping all involved on the same page, relevant information can flow, and any misinterpretations can be lessened.
Hopefully, this article has supported you in the understanding and the potential benefits of the National Autistic Society’s SPELL framework. If you would like more information about Autism, take a look at our article on Understanding Autism. Please take a look at our site for further information on our range of charity holidays for disabled people.
According to the National Autistic Society, an estimated 700,000 people may have the disorder; this can convert into a statistic of 1 in 100 of the population with autism. As autism is not one, but a range of disorders, it is referred to as ASD, which stands for Autism Spectrum Disorder. Wendy Chung has discussed how we have seen an increase in cases of ASD in more recent decades, and this may be a result of an improvement in diagnosis abilities. However, it may be challenging to diagnose, as there are many variations. In this article, we aim to help you understand what autism is and discuss the advantages of support for people with autism.
What is Autism?
Autism is a condition that affects the neurobehavioral aspects of a person. It is understood that people with autism generally have sensory sensitivity and this changes how they interpret their surroundings. It affects how senses are communicated to the brain and results in possible confusion. Their perception of the world, compared to someone who does not have the condition, may feel like a sensory overload. As a result, it can affect how they socially interact and communicate, therefore making connections and interactions more difficult. Everyday situations that may usually be viewed as comfortable can feel overwhelming for someone with autism. However, this can also mean that some people with autism find tasks that others find difficult, incredibly easy.
What are the Exterior Signs of Autism?
As there is a spectrum of autism, immediate diagnosis can be difficult. It is understood that signs of autism usually emerge by the age of three. It may not be apparent until a child reaches a year and half years old when difficulty in communication becomes noticeable. However, sometimes, signs are there from birth.
For others, it may not be until a change of environment in later life which triggers symptoms of autism to surface. This is because the new circumstance is beyond their competence, and it has never been previously probed. It is not unusual for an autistic person to go through life without a diagnosis.
The National Autistic Society website reveals that women, in particular, often go undiagnosed due to a variety of reasons. For example, ‘autism diagnosis tools’ are often based on male characteristics, as opposed to female, so they do not fit into the profile associated with autism when in review for diagnosis. Furthermore, it is suggested that women tend to ‘cover’ their struggles more so than men, leading them to go often undiagnosed.
However, adult diagnosis, much like a diagnosis in children, is increasing with a better understanding of the condition.
Common behaviours of autism include struggling with talking (especially about how they feel), being around others, and playing with other children. Repetition of words, movements, phrases, questions, and types of food are also indicators. The coping strategies at times of stress may differ to what you would expect and usually involve repetitious movements, such as rocking, hand movements and pacing. A fondness to particular objects is also a trait associated with autism. It is not unusual for people with autism to not observe other people or happenings around them. In more severe cases, children with autism may cultivate seizures which can arise during their teenage years.
What Difficulties do People with Autism Face?
As previously mentioned, people who have autism suffer sensitive senses which can be very uncomfortable, overwhelming and sometimes painful for them. It can be unclear for people around them as the cause for their discomfort may not be visible. Change is not received well by people who have autism and a change in routine can be extremely unsettling for them. In some cases, this level of discomfort can cause self-inflicting, harmful behaviours. Furthermore, the development of communication skills can be hindered, dependent on the level of autism. However, in some academic aspects, they may soar in their capabilities, such as music, drawing, maths and memory. The National Autistic Society has revealed that only one in six adults with autism have a job; this suggests that many people with autism struggle with independent living and responsibility in their adult lives. Support should make this a more achievable goal but may not be a viable outcome for all cases.
Why Are Diagnosis and Support Important for People Who Have Autism?
It is understood that early diagnosis of autism is enormously beneficial. Firstly, it creates awareness for themselves, their families, friends and other relationships about their situation and explains why certain behaviours may erupt. These surrounding people need to take the time and to understand the effects of autism. It has been reported that 34% of children with ASD feel that bullying is the worse part about going to school. This is a heart-breaking statistic which proves why the correct support and understanding can make a massive alteration to someone’s life, especially a child.
Our Devon activity breaks are a fantastic, inclusive opportunity for everyone to enjoy a safe space, accessible for all. Our programmes are specially arranged before arrival at the Calvert Trust Exmoor, which assists the transition of our guests to the new surroundings. In addition to this, we have a pictorial programme displayed throughout the stay, also designed to help ease transitions. For more information, take a look at our blog, How Can an Adventure Break Improve Confidence for a Disabled Child to discover more about the benefits of adventure holidays.