A sensory room is a specially designed room that helps to develop an individual’s sense, through lights, objects of different textures and music. This kind of space is often useful for children and adults with sensory sensitivities, like some people with autism may experience. Sensory rooms can also help support the development of auditory, visual, tactical processing and fine and gross motor skills.
The Benefits of a Sensory Room
Sensory rooms are often primarily used by children, supporting them as they grow and develop. However, they can also help adults with autism by stimulating different senses.
These rooms can serve as an escape from the stressors of the outside world. For example, if someone has difficulty when overstimulated by noise they can go into a sensory room and use the objects in there to help calm their senses and become less agitated.
After spending time in a sensory room, children often have improved creativity and expression, increased concentration and focus, lowered aggression and show increases in gross and fine motor skills.
Along with the sensory benefits, spending time in a sensory room can encourage problem solving and build nerve connections in the brain, which allows children to retain more information.
Ideas for a Sensory Room
The main goal of a sensory room is to be a safe space where individuals can go when they need to calm or stimulate their senses. There are various things that you can include in a sensory room.
Our accessible accommodation and facilities here at Calvert Exmoor includes access to a sensory room where guests can go to have a multi sensory experience. Our sensory room includes:
- Bubble tube
- Moving coloured lights
- Projector and mirror ball
- Flexible fibre optic lights
- Bean bag chairs
If you’re making your own sensory room, think about who will be using it and what their needs are. Here are some common things to include in a sensory room to help support people with autism or sensory needs.
1. Sensory Lighting
Slow colour changing lights are great for sensory rooms; not only can they provide relief from stress or being overwhelmed, but also entertainment. Different colours, forms of light and shapes from shadows can be engaging and mesmerising.
Lighting also plays a vital role in early childhood development, which is why it can be so important to include in a sensory room designed specifically for children. There are many different kinds of light-based toys and devices to suit different needs and preferences.
2. Sensory Seating
Sensory seating allows children to move about in a more appropriate way without teaching them bad habits such as rocking in a chair. It will allow them to safely move about in their seat, helping to calm their senses.
Bean bags, wiggle seats and wobble cushions are also great for encouraging different kinds of movement.
3. Balance Tools
Balance tools and toys help to encourage balance and stability as a person engages certain muscles, creating a better sense of bodily awareness.
From balance beams to stepping stones there is a huge range of balance tools to choose from.
These are great for younger children as they can help to encourage crawling, be used as part of an obstacle course or even as a visual enclosure when needed.
Many children may enjoy laying in a tunnel on their bellies while doing other activities as it can improve their focus. Tunnels can also become cosy dens with a pillow and blanket, allowing children to decompress after a long day.
Setting up a decompression space or quiet corner in a sensory room is really important especially for those who struggle with sensory processing disorders.
Ball play can help children develop a range of skills, including:
- Hand eye coordination
- Grasping skills
- Spatial awareness
- Gross and fine motor skills
- Social skills
From sensory balls to yoga balls, these are brilliant for stimulating the sense of touch.
In various sensory rooms you will likely find ball pits; these are great as when children crash into them it provides deep-pressure sensations and proprioceptive feedback, meeting the sensory needs of those who enjoy the feeling of pressure or weightlessness.
Here at Calvert Trust Exmoor we make it our mission to provide accessible facilities and activities for everyone to enjoy. If you’re ready to embark on an accessible holiday in Devon, why not plan a trip with us? You’ll be able to experience a range of incredible activities, including abseiling, canoeing, cycling and many more!
As disability and inclusivity awareness becomes more widespread, more and more people are starting to understand autism and the ways people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may behave differently from neurotypical individuals. However, there are still many misconceptions associated with the disorder.
The National Autistic Society estimates that there are around 700,000 people in the UK who are on the autism spectrum. Like any other group, people with ASD are not a monolith, so understanding autism comes with understanding that everyone is unique.
As a provider of accessible holidays in Devon, we’ve welcomed many guests with autism – we know how important it is that we all do our best to be understanding of others and support people that society has historically neglected.
What is Autism?
Autism, or ASD, refers to a range of conditions that affect people differently. Autistic individuals may interpret the world differently than a neurotypical person, resulting in them finding it difficult to communicate, experiencing sensory overload or exhibiting restrictive behaviours, among other characteristics.
How these behaviours impact a person’s daily life will depend on the individual. There is no one way to be autistic.
Some people may have other conditions as well as ASD, including anxiety, depression and ADHD.
What are the Signs of Autism?
Autism is considered an invisible disability – you cannot tell by looking at someone if they are autistic or not. Because autism is a spectrum, diagnosis can also be challenging sometimes, with some people going through life without ever receiving a formal diagnosis.
Some people may exhibit all the typical symptoms of autism, while others may experience one or two.
Communication & Social Interaction
Some people with autism can find it difficult to understand others’ verbal communication and non-verbal gestures. They may struggle to interpret sarcasm or figures of speech and have limited or no speech themselves. Children with autism especially may repeat what others have said to them again and again – this is known as echolalia.
Some can also find it difficult to understand how people are feeling, making it harder to form connections. Because they do not always understand unwritten social rules neotropical people have more easily learnt, people with autism can sometimes be perceived as rude or ‘strange’.
Another common characteristic various autistic people may share is over or under-sensitivity to different stimuli. Certain sounds, smells, tastes, tactile experiences and light can be uncomfortable, causing stress, anxiety or even physical pain.
Stimuli that are too intense may cause some people to avoid everyday situations like shopping in a busy supermarket or travelling on the bus. Being exposed to too many stimuli may cause sensory overload or a meltdown.
Dedicated spaces like sensory rooms are designed to help soothe anxiety prompted by sensory overload and encourage more controlled sensory experiences.
Many people on the autism spectrum show special interest in a particular topic or hobby, becoming experts in their interest and putting a lot of time and focus into it. Special interests can change throughout a person’s life, while others may pursue theirs as part of their career.
For some people, special interests can stray into becoming obsessions, causing them to neglect other parts of their lives to remain highly focused on their interests.
Routines and repetitive behaviours can help provide some structure and predictability to help navigate what can often be a confusing world. Some people may exhibit repetitive movements like rocking or hand flapping to help calm down when anxious or simply because they find the repetitive sensation enjoyable.
When an autistic person becomes too overwhelmed, they may experience a meltdown or shutdown. The former often presents as a loss of control, with some lashing out or shouting. A shutdown can also stem from feelings of being overwhelmed but may seem more passive from the outside, with the person becoming closed off.
Both can be frustrating and exhausting for the person experiencing them.
Wrongful Assumptions About Autism
Like other conditions that lie outside of the ‘norm’, autism has been subject to a number of falsehoods and untrue perceptions over the years. It is important that we continue to break down the stigma surrounding ASD and the associated behaviours to make wider society more inclusive for everyone.
Autism is not an illness, and there is no ‘cure’ – people born with autism are autistic for life. Just because someone is autistic, it does not mean they cannot do certain things. While some may need various kinds of support at times, being autistic does not stop you from leading a well-rounded life.
It is not known what causes autism or even if there is a ‘cause’. Autism is not caused by vaccines.
How to Support People With Autism
Support can come in many forms, whether you further educate yourself to better understand the people with ASD in your life or champion autistic voices. If you’re not sure whether your help is needed or wanted, simply ask the people it concerns.
Activities to Support People with Autism
Receptive toys and sensory activities can be valuable for both children and adults with autism. This might include smaller-scale activities like painting or cooking or involve more energetic things like accessible outdoor adventure activities.
At Calvert Exmoor, we’ve seen firsthand how spending time outdoors can benefit people with autism, especially when combined with a range of activities that are designed to intrigue the senses. Things like archery, bushcraft, climbing and zip lining are all wonderfully tactile, sensory experiences.
Everyone deserves the chance to take a break and enjoy new experiences. However, going on holiday and changing the routine can be difficult for some people. Dedicated autism-friendly holidays are designed to support people with autism and meet their needs, ensuring they can have a relaxing and enjoyable time away.
Our autism-friendly holidays in Devon revolve around a host of adventure activities based at our autism-friendly site and accessible facilities. We always keep inclusivity and accessibility in mind to ensure that everyone can enjoy the thrills of an activity break.
To find out more about how we make our holidays accessible to all or to organise a trip, please get in touch.
Thanks to the vital work of disability organisations and charities, disability awareness has become more widespread over recent years, but there are still many ways society can be more inclusive and aim to dismantle the stigma attached to various disabilities.
As a centre for accessible holidays in Devon, we welcome guests of all abilities and backgrounds, catering to everyone’s needs. We’ve seen first-hand how disability can affect people in different ways and how valuable an accessible place that embraces everyone can be.
Non-visible disabilities can often get lost in the conversation surrounding disability. We take a look at what is meant by this term and how you can better support people with non-visible disabilities.
What is a Hidden Disability?
An invisible disability is a physical, mental or neurological condition or impairment that is not immediately obvious to an outside perspective and may go unnoticed by others. Invisible disabilities can make performing daily activities difficult, with these challenges exacerbated by a wider population that misunderstands the nature of unseen disabilities.
Different individuals may identify with varying terms, depending on which best reflects their experience. Along with ‘invisible disability’, you may see the following terms being used:
- Non-visible disability
- Unseen disability
- Hidden disability
- Less-visible disability
- Non-apparent disability
The perceived visibility of an impairment may change over time; sometimes, an individual may feel that their disability is ‘visible’ or it may be less visible, also changing depending on who is perceiving the disability. The term ‘dynamic disability’ can be used to reflect this to some degree, as some individuals may use something like a mobility aid at certain times but not others.
It is important to remember that just because you personally cannot see that someone has a disability, it does not mean it does not exist.
What is Considered an Invisible Disability?
Non-visible disabilities can encompass a range of things – there is no one way to experience non-apparent disabilities. Examples of an invisible disability might include, but are by no means limited to:
- Chronic pain or fatigue
- Other chronic conditions like diabetes
- Mental health conditions like depression, schizophrenia, PTSD and anxiety
- Blindness or visual impairments
- Deafness or hearing impairments
- Cognitive impairments like traumatic brain injuries and learning disabilities
- Various other diverse conditions
A person may have multiple disabilities, with some being visible and some being non-visible.
Supporting People with Non-Visible Disabilities
As with any disability, the kind of support an individual with non-visible disabilities needs will vary. You should always listen to the individual rather than assuming everyone expects, requires and appreciates the same kind of support. Never make assumptions about what a person with disabilities, visible or non-visible, can or cannot do.
Some people may choose to keep their disability private, while others may wear a badge or symbol that makes others aware they have a non-visible disability. The sunflower lanyard from the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme is one example of how people use an outward sign to signify their disability.
Remember, even if someone is not wearing a sign like this, it does not mean they are lying about their disability – it is not their responsibility to prove to you that they have a disability, nor is it in your purview to ask.
Ignorant reactions to invisible disabilities can further expose incorrect perceptions about disability in general, reinforcing certain stigmas and leading to misunderstandings.
Invisible Disability Awareness
Ableism can come in many forms, and those with invisible disabilities may experience varying levels of discrimination. Educating yourself, understanding what is meant by non-visible disabilities and recognising how society treats such disabilities are among the first steps towards helping reduce the barriers faced by individuals with non-visible disabilities.
Support begins with respect as the bare minimum. Respect that you may not be able to tell if someone has a disability and respect that how someone expresses their disability is their choice.
Ensuring we create an environment where everyone feels included and accepted is just one of the things we strive for. Everyone deserves a break and a chance to escape the everyday routine. Here at Calvert Exmoor, our accessible adventure activities ensure everyone, no matter their ability, can experience a holiday to remember.
If a break full of accessible climbing, zip lining, archery and more sounds like something you or a loved one would enjoy, please get in touch with the Calvert Exmoor team to book a stay with us.
Autism is often referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). When it comes to understanding autism, it is important to remember that autism is considered a spectrum, and encompasses a range of disorders or experiences rather than just one. Consequently, each individual who has autism has different levels of sensory sensitivity.
With years of experience providing autism friendly holidays, at Calvert Exmoor, we cater to a broad spectrum of needs and understand how important it is that people with autism create and achieve self-care goals.
As such, we’ve created 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 Are Goals Important For People with Autism?
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 that are easy to repeat.
Having goals can open up more opportunities to gain greater independence in certain aspects of our lives as they offer us a sense of control. Lots of small goals over time can encourage us to make changes beyond what we would have previously thought possible.
Introducing Self-Care Goals
Some individuals who have autism can find organisation challenging. Using prompts and breaking down tasks into manageable steps can help introduce initially difficult tasks to someone who has autism.
This could include things such as:
- Getting dressed
- Brushing teeth
- Brushing hair
- Packing a bag
- Making their bed
How to Achieve Self-Care Goals
As previously mentioned, splitting tasks into smaller steps will help them become more manageable. There are a range of ways you can approach this, including:
‘Forward chaining’ is a method that The National Autistic Society has recommended. This process involves teaching a skill by breaking it down into smaller, manageable steps, helping to achieve the overall aim.
For example, when 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 a method suggested by the National Autistic Society, except this implements the task steps by working from the last step backwards.
Maintain a ‘Sensory Record’
As you try to introduce small goals, we recommend keeping 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.
A gentle, sensory experience with toys may help ease some symptoms of anxiety and provide relief from overstimulation.
An excellent way to implement new things, especially for children, is to use illustrations. Leaving pictures as reminders will 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 done by accompanying 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.
A verbal prompt 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, 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 receive 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 you ever notice a decline in a loved one’s self-care routine, this could indicate underlying issues concerning their mental health. This could be anything from anxiety or depression to forms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (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 Friendly Activities at Calvert Exmoor
Here at Calvert Trust Exmoor, we offer accessible activities for people with autism and a range of other disabilities. 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.
For example, why not give archery a try? This activity offers a pleasant sensory experience for people with ADHD and/or autism, allowing our guests to unwind and gain a sense of accomplishment.
We take great pride in our certified instructors, who encourage independence when supervising activities by using physical, gestural and verbal prompts.
Daily timetables ensure there is a set routine for our guests. We also encourage using our social areas, where guests can meet and support one another before and after sessions.
Our facilities are tailored to assist all kinds of disabilities; for people with autism, we provide a sensory room that contains various receptive toys.
The wide range of adaptive activities and support we provide is only made possible with your help, so please consider supporting us however you can to ensure our guests can continue to feel empowered and confident during and after their stay with us.
Hopefully, the tips mentioned in this blog will offer some helpful pointers for accomplishing self-care goals! If you have any other recommendations, we would love to hear about them on our social media channels like Facebook!
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 email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
People with autism can find processing everyday sensory experiences difficult. These sensory differences may mean a person with autism navigates the world differently and might seek different experiences than a neurotypical person.
Sensory toys and experiences that increase or decrease stimulation help engage numerous senses or let someone focus on one sensation, functioning to support individuals to relax or concentrate. These kinds of aids can be helpful for both children and adults with autism who are hyper-sensitive or hypo-sensitive to stimulants.
As an activity centre that offers autism-friendly holidays, we understand how important it is for people with autism to feel in control of their surroundings. Our accessible facilities include a sensory room that provides different sensory toys and a safe space to get away from overwhelming stimulants.
What are Sensory Toys?
Sensory and receptive toys are designed to help you fully engage with one or more senses in an enjoyable way. This includes stimulating:
- Bodily Awareness
They are especially useful for children with autism who are learning how to respond to different sensory experiences, supporting both physical and cognitive development. Toys or tools like this can also be helpful with adults with autism as they can provide something to focus on and control when the outside world seems overwhelming or chaotic.
A sensory projector can create displays of lights, colours, patterns and images, helping you create a safe, controlled space with ambient lighting.
Depending on an individual’s response to light, this could be relaxing or exciting. Light projectors or even more simple colour torches offer an immersive but calming experience, making them especially useful tools for sleep routines.
Bubble machines or regular bottles of bubbles make great multi-sensory toys that can pique the interest of people of all different ages.
Not only are bubbles intriguing to look at, with their sheen of colours and wobbling shapes, but having fun with bubbles also creates the opportunity to incorporate some games.
Games could include popping as many bubbles as possible in a given time, blowing the largest bubble or following the bubbles until they pop.
Sand & Slime
Things like sand and slime are great for those that are intrigued by different experiences with touch. Playing with new textures offers a varied sensory experience that individuals can explore at their own pace.
Playing with kinetic sand or slime can be both relaxing and offer an outlet for creativity. As many of these products are available in bright colours or with different themes, they can also appeal to visual senses.
Fidget Cubes & Spinners
Fidget toys come in many forms, whether it’s a puzzle cube, light-up fidget spinner or any other small hand-held toy that has moving parts or enticing textures.
A small fidget toy is ideal to occupy those that are prone to distraction or individuals who like to keep their hands moving.
Fidget toys can be useful for both children and adults as many find them relaxing and provide a distraction from overwhelming sensations.
Sensory rings work in a similar way, distracting individuals and occupying their hands when they want to channel energy into something kinetic. You’ll find various kinds of sensory rings, with discrete, wearable rings that offer interesting textures or larger rubber rings to play with.
Wearable rings will often have small moving parts that will easily keep anxious hands busy and calm those who enjoy repetitive patterns and movements.
Colourful & Interactive Books
Books with vibrant colours and dynamic pictures appeal to anyone who likes to be visually stimulated.
Some books will have different textures and other interactive elements to intrigue and delight the reader’s tactile senses.
Some authors have written books specifically aimed towards children and adults with autism, helping them make sense of their sensory differences or other experiences or presenting relatable accounts of everyday situations.
Rainmakers can offer visual and auditory stimulation. These fun toys are often colourful, with lots of vibrant beads inside that individuals can watch fall and dance as they make soothing rain sounds.
The consistent, white noise-like sound produced by rainmakers can offer a preferable audible experience for those that are too overwhelmed by loud or intricate music where lots of different sounds are present.
Musical instruments are incredibly varied, so they will offer countless auditory experiences with the opportunity to explore different sensations. Research has indicated that music stimulates both hemispheres of the brain, making it a useful therapy tool for people with autism.
As music doesn’t necessarily require the use of spoken language, engaging with different instruments can encourage those who struggle with verbal communication to find new ways to express themselves.
Those that take comfort in noticing patterns may also enjoy the inherent rhythm and counting in music.
Swings & Climbing Apparatus
For some, the act of moving their body and feeling different physical sensations can be soothing and helps relieve overwhelming thoughts or feelings.
Swings or climbing apparatus in the garden can be great tools for this and will help provide hours of fun while spending a bit of time outdoors.
Here at Calvert Exmoor, our giant swing activity provides an exhilarating sensory experience that will get guests moving in new ways. Our adaptive harnesses ensure everyone feels safe and supported, allowing them to focus on building confidence and having an amazing time!
Sensory Blackout Tent
Sometimes someone with autism may feel overstimulated and unable to process lots of things going on. This is when controlling sensory input can be incredibly useful.
A blackout tent or even a room catered to the sensory needs of an individual provides a place where they can retreat without the fear of becoming overwhelmed.
A tent or retreat like this can be customised to each individual and made extra comfortable with weighted blankets or other personal items that bring peace.
Providing adventure holidays that are accessible to all is at the heart of what we do here at Calvert Exmoor. Our activities are adapted to the needs of each individual, so people with autism and disabilities can enjoy their time with us to the fullest.
To book your adventure break, get in touch with our wonderful team!
How Can SPELL Support People With Autism?
Life for people with autism can be made more challenging by an exclusive society. Many people with autism may communicate in different ways from neurotypical individuals, which can put them on the periphery of wider society when others are not correctly educated about different methods of communication.
At Calvert Trust Exmoor, we are dedicated to making the world a more welcoming place for all. Our inclusive and adaptive activity holidays for people with disabilities cater to people of all ages and abilities, including those on the autistic spectrum.
Learning about frameworks like SPELL is just one useful place to start when considering how to better understand and respond to people with autism. What are the benefits of SPELL, and how can the structure support communications for people with autism?
What is the SPELL Framework?
Developed by the National Autistic Society, SPELL is a guideline that can help those interacting with people with autism recognise someone’s individual needs and understand how to best meet these needs. There are five elements that go into creating the framework:
- Positive Approaches and Expectations
- Low Arousal
How to Support an a Person With Autism
Using SPELL provides a useful baseline when it comes to supporting people with autism. The guidelines it gives can be adapted for people of all ages.
The five principles focus on assessing the unique needs of individuals with autism and explore the ways we can change our environments to make communication more accessible and effective. How can each element support people with autism?
Many people with autism may struggle with change or unpredictability, so providing structure can be hugely beneficial.
A sense of structure can give individuals more independence and confidence as they’ll know what to expect from a situation or person. Facilitating structure, stability and routine that is catered to individuals can reduce feelings of anxiety and stress.
Positive Approaches & Expectation
This element focuses on building self-esteem and confidence through focusing on interests and strengths and building goals around these positive attributes.
Creating realistic targets that take into account the barriers an individual might face helps support development. Many people with autism may struggle with trying new experiences, but a structure of positive encouragement can help support progress.
As individuals progress, they can start setting higher goals that will support their overall well-being.
When a neurotypical person communicates with someone with autism, empathy can be a helpful tool. Seeing the world from their perspective may help you understand their reactions to certain things and what you can do to help improve the environment or reduce stressors.
Developing successful relationships will often come down to communicating in a consistent, logical and empathetic manner.
Different people will be able to deal with different levels of stimulus, so consider how the environment might affect a person with autism. Environments should be ordered and free of distractions to help keep communication relaxed and clear.
Some may need more time and focus to digest information, so keep control of any input to avoid a chaotic environment. Remain aware of noise, light, colours, smells and anything else in the environment that might cause a sensory overload.
This point refers to the importance of communicating with people with autism and the other people in their life, whether this means family, friends or caregivers.
Considering this support network as a unit helps avoid any instances of miscommunication or a fragmented approach. By keeping all involved on the same page, relevant information can flow more effectively.
Understanding and Responding to Autism
With this framework, hopefully, caregivers and others who interact with people with autism can gain a better understanding of the most productive ways to communicate with and support them.
It should be noted that everyone is different and will have different needs, so tailor your approach to them rather than following the framework blindly.
If you are or you know a someone with autism who would love to take on a new adventure at our autism-friendly activity centre, why not get in touch to find out more about our activities and opportunities?
Communication is an integral part of how we understand and relate to one another. Everyone talks and behaves in unique ways, with many of us having personal verbal or body language quirks that are part of what make us, us!
The subtleties of these different methods of communicating can make understanding others confusing, especially for people autism.
Educating yourself on how a person with autism might communicate is one of the most helpful ways to reduce confusion for everyone. It’s important to note that no two people with autism will communicate in the same way; there are, however, some general things to consider.
By having a good general knowledge of autism and communication, you open the door to more effective communication between all, rediscovering the joy of good conversation whether it’s with a family member, friend, work colleague or stranger!
We hope this will prove a useful resource for those endeavouring to improve their understanding of autism and the role of communication.
Understanding Autism and Communication
When considering how to improve the way you communicate, it can be helpful to first appreciate how communication might be more difficult for people with autism.
Historically, wider society has perpetuated assumptions that people with autism struggle with social skills, are shy or unfriendly, or cannot feel or express emotions.
These assumed traits are unfair, untrue and should be dismissed as ignorance.
Instead, someone with autism 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.
Some people with autism cannot quickly adapt to conversations or respond to words in the same way neurotypical people might. This is not because they cannot communicate ‘correctly’; they may simply communicate in their own way.
Because the autism spectrum is vastly different for each person, there is always variety in the way people with autism will behave and talk. People with autism are not deliberately being strange or unsociable but are seeking the best ways to express themselves.
The Benefits of Improving Your Communication Skills
Learning how to best converse with people who may not communicate in a way you’re familiar with can help you appreciate how people experience the world differently.
When improving your communication skills, you’ll also learn how to better express yourself and your own ideas in various ways.
You’ll also, of course, be able to connect with more people, build relationships and help cultivate a more understanding environment, making discussions an enjoyable and productive experience for everyone.
How Do People With Autism Communicate?
As mentioned, there is no one size fits all – people with autism are not a homogeneous group. That being said, many individuals might use some of the following communication techniques.
- 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 phrases ‘fit’ the current situation.
- Picking out keywords or phrases – then focusing on the literal meanings and responding accordingly to those words only.
For a person with autism, 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.
Analysing words and not tones is why a person with autism might have trouble understanding sarcasm, metaphors, and humorous language.
While talking to someone, an individual with autism might also:
- Change topics quickly – it can be difficult for some people 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 around, as the mind moves quickly to deal with each input.
- Make no eye contact – people with autism can talk with you but may struggle to talk to you, often not making eye contact. Again, this is not an unfriendly action.
Eye Contact and Communication for People With Autism
Avoiding eye contact may help someone with autism talk clearly as it takes away all the stimuli that come with looking into someone’s eyes, which can often cause an overload of information. Some people may prefer to speak with their eyes shut, to focus purely on the words of the conversation.
You should never force people with autism to make eye contact with you during a conversation as, for many individuals, this might cause undue stress and discomfort.
How to Talk to a Person With Autism
By looking at how people with autism may communicate, we can see that their understanding of conversations relies heavily on language and words (or lack of words) and not the use of other people’s facial expressions, body language or subtle infections.
Below, we provide some common tips to use when speaking to someone who may have difficulty communicating.
Speak With Clarity
One of the best things you can do is speak with clear and concise words, saying simple and plain sentences that cannot have more than one meaning.
Be direct and avoid using figures of speech as non-literal language can be confusing. Slang, nuance, or sarcasm can cause confusion and double-meaning.
Avoid Terms of Endearment
Like sarcasm or slang, terms of endearment, including things like ‘honey’, ‘love’ or ‘mate’, can cause confusion and should be avoided.
The speaker may mean nothing by these terms or use them offhandedly, but a person with autism may take them literally or find them uncomfortable.
Address the Individual By Name
Say the person’s name at the beginning of a conversation, question or important statement.
This ensures they are paying attention instead of blocking out background noise. If you don’t know their name, take a moment to ask and find out (which is also just polite and helps make a connection).
Make Gentle Eye Contact If Possible
This encourages non-verbal communication and helps people with autism develop their skills in understanding facial expressions and emotion.
Again, don’t try to force this, as it can make talking even more difficult for some.
Avoid Open-Ended Questions
Something like ‘did you have a good day?’ is an open-ended question that many neurotypical people will answer without hesitation. However, questions with so many possible answers and interpretations can be challenging for people with autism to answer.
Questions that are necessary and require a specific answer are much better. It can also help to offer options or choices to help guide but not control the conversation.
Talk About What They Want to Discuss
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 includes obsessive tendencies, which might lead to them talking a lot about one particular thing. Sticking to the topic they want to discuss keeps the conversation going and helps them develop their communication skills.
Avoid Overloading Information
People with autism can struggle to filter out less important information, which can lead to them being overloaded, meaning they struggle to process new information.
If it seems like they’re being overloaded, or are anxious, begin to slow your pace or halt the conversation. If something must be said, use minimal words and avoid questions. This break allows the individual to catch up and deal with stimuli.
If it seems like a conversation is becoming distressing, it can also be helpful to remove visual communications. While eye contact and movements are usually a good thing, during an overload, they can become unwanted stimulus.
You should also be aware 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.
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 that they need more time to absorb and process the information.
Expect the Unexpected
We know that people with autism may use gestures, sounds and echolalia to process and respond to specific words. Someone may use all or a few of these communication methods.
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’re trying to say. Keep being patient, go with the flow of the conversation and allow the individual to communicate in their way.
Try Written or Visual Communication
If verbal communication is less effective, try writing or getting visual. Someone who struggles to talk may be happy to restart the conversation on paper, using written words or pictures.
Sensory or receptive toys may also help some people feel more comfortable when in a situation where they have to talk or get their point across.
How to Communicate With Adults With Autism
Most of the tips above will apply to conversing with people with autism of all ages. However, one of the most important things to do when talking with an adult with autism is to address and converse with them as you would any other adult, and not as a child.
A person with autism 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.
You should also never speak as if the person is not in the room when in a group setting. By modelling appropriate behaviour, you also help show others in the group how they can best communicate with others.
How Do Children With Autism Communicate?
Children with autism may have different mannerisms as they are still developing and learning to react to the world around them.
These may include:
- Using made-up words (known as 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 attempts 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 Communicate With Children With Autism
Language is often simplified for all children but is especially important for children with autism as they are still learning about metaphors, double meanings and sarcasm.
When speaking to a child with autism, you should be very conscious of doing the following to support their communication skills.
- Using short sentences and blunt instructions.
- Using sounds like ‘yuck’ and physical actions.
- Combining verbal communication alongside visual cards or tablets with pictures.
- Speaking with an exaggerated tone of voice to make a point and highlight important words.
- Talking with gaps in sentences for them to fill in and finish.
- Using prompts and questions to encourage responses.
- Speaking with patience and giving time to respond.
- Attempting communication at the right moments when they are not engaged with something else and are calm.
Autism-Friendly Holidays at Calvert Trust Exmoor
As everyone is different, we understand that these points can only be used as a general guide – one of the best ways to improve communication with people with autism is to build a rapport and connection with the individual.
This is something we keep in mind here at Calvert Trust Exmoor when organising our accessible holidays in Devon.
Our breaks are designed to support those with a range of abilities, providing specialised activities and autism-friendly accommodation, facilities and adventures.
When on one of our autism-friendly holidays, our trained instructors will create a tailored experience, guiding guests through a variety of exciting activities. We ensure that guests will have the same instructor throughout their stay, helping guests with autism build a stronger bond with them.
Our accessible breaks cater to both adults and children, ensuring that everyone enjoys the activities and is encouraged to reach their full potential!
To find out more about the autism-friendly Calvert Experience, you can read our guest stories, where you’ll find numerous examples of how various people with autism have enjoyed their time with us.
For more information about booking an autism-friendly holiday, please get in touch.