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.
According to a Government survey in 2017, the UK is considered as the loneliest country throughout Europe. For people who have severe hearing impairments or are Deaf, social isolation and loneliness can, unfortunately, feel like a regular occurrence.
Here at Calvert Trust Exmoor, we provide a range of adventure holidays for people with disabilities, and we want to promote awareness as much as we can to create a more considerate environment. In this article, we are going to explore what isolation is and why people who have hearing conditions or are Deaf can feel isolated.
Who Can Experience Feelings of Isolation?
Everyone can feel isolated at some point in their lives as isolation can occur as a result of various reasons and situations.
For example, if you have ever felt like you haven’t been adequately understood or acknowledged in a social situation, this can leave you feeling like you are ‘unrelatable’. Feeling like you are not accepted through communications can create a sense of unease within yourself. Eventually, feelings like this can push you away from people if they happen often.
For some people, these feelings of loneliness and misunderstanding can develop into more significant feelings of isolation, and in some cases, contribute to mental health illnesses, such as depression and anxiety.
For people who have disabilities, living in a world where their needs are not considered or viewed as significant, can easily lead to the feeling of isolation. Furthermore, if people cannot communicate with others in a reliable way, such as through sign language, people can feel very alone and unsupported.
Why Can Deaf People Feel Isolated?
Human interaction and support are aspects of the world which make life more comfortable and enjoyable. However, when the ability to hear and freely express your thoughts to the rest of the world is not consistently possible, this can put people in the position of isolation.
It is understood that Deafness is the third most prevalent disability on the planet. However, due to its ‘invisible’ appearance, the needs of people who have a hearing impairment or are Deaf are often overlooked in day to day life.
SignHealth charity has revealed that mental health illnesses such as anxiety and depression are ‘twice as likely’ to effect deaf people, in comparison to those who are of hearing.
The Skill of Lip Reading
Many people who are Deaf or have a hearing impairment rely on lip-reading to remain in conversations with those who can hear. It has been expressed that this requires a lot of concentration to ensure they can read the situation visually as well as trying to pick up as much sound as possible. Understandably, this can use a lot of energy.
For some people who have hearing impairments or Deafness, it can also create feelings of vulnerability. Accessing relevant information can be difficult, causing anxiety, especially in times of emergency. For example, the stress of making sure you are aware of any emergency alarms despite not being able to hear. These types of worries can often leave people feeling alone and in fear in an unpredictable world without secure communications.
The British Deaf Association
Ensuring that the UK has integrated sign language into daily communications is something that the British Deaf Association are passionate about. Much of their work is to promote accessible information. They believe that by spreading awareness of British and Irish Sign Languages, we should be able to achieve equality for Deaf people over time, encouraging equal opportunities for everyone. For more information, please take a look at their website
How Can You Be More Deaf Aware?
Sign language would be an incredibly positive skill to have when communicating with someone who is Deaf or has a hearing impairment. If you would like more information about sign language, why not look at our blog on the Different Types of Sign Language in the UK which provides details on how you can access a course.
However, if sign language is something you haven’t learnt yet, there are some other tips that the charity Action On Hearing Loss recommend. The tips are based on those individuals who use the skill of lip reading.
Address the Person
Ensure the person knows you are addressing them by politely attracting their attention. Avoid doing this from an angle where they cannot see, as this can cause alarm.
Choose a Quiet Setting
If you can, try and communicate in an environment that has minimal noise. If the area is well lit, this is even better.
Make Sure Your Face Is Visible
Ensure your face can be clearly seen so your lips can be read with more ease. When you speak, don’t look away or cover your mouth.
Talk how you typically talk but make sure not to rush your speech and check that you are being understood. Try to avoid exaggerated speaking as this can make lip patterns distorted. And remember to look friendly and approachable still!
Don’t Move On If You’re Not Understood
If you haven’t communicated effectively, don’t say ‘it doesn’t matter’ and try to move on. Instead, attempt to say it in another way.
Ensure Your Voice is Down
For those who have a hearing aid, a raise in voice can be uncomfortable.
Always Speak Directly to the Person
In the situation where someone may have a sign language interpreter or another form of communication support, ensure you are addressing them and not the interpreter.
Hopefully, we have provided you with some background information on social isolation. If you have any tips or useful information, you would like to share with us, and others, concerning this article, please contact us on our social media platforms.
Being active is an essential part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Not only are there distinct physical advantages, but the NHS website expresses how exercising consistently is proven to improve feelings of self-esteem.
Here at Calvert Trust Exmoor, we promote a can-do attitude and aim to encourage all our visitors to achieve their heart’s desires. As a result, we have selected some of the top sites online where users can search for local activity and sports clubs across the UK.
Whether you would like to try swimming, bowling, football, tennis, surfing or any sport, these sites can share with you the accessible activities available in your area. Take a look at our blog on the Five Benefits of Surfing for People With a Disability for more information on this unique activity and discover the fantastic work led by the Wave Project!
ParalympicsGB has created the Parasport website alongside Toyota. Their goal is in ‘making movement better for everyone.’
The site has been produced in the hope of becoming the largest inclusive, online community which shares valuable information about sporting opportunities across the country. It shares not only information about offered sports, but also a place to read up on the stories and accomplishments of people who have joined exercise groups and clubs.
With an emphasis that everyone should have equal opportunities in trying the sports they want to, they promote that everyone can find an activity that they can enjoy!
What the Site Offers:
Parasport can be used as a search engine to discover available sports across the UK. They also share information about upcoming events regarding accessible activities and provide an online community for those involved, or would like to be involved, in sporting events and clubs.
The Parasport website also has a section of suggestions for sports you can try for inspiration. Each sport featured has a general summary of what to expect, as well as some handy tips on things to take along to a session.
They offer information on the amenities of local leisure centres too.
The NHS provides users with a trove of information for health issues, including both mental health and physical health matters. It offers advice on symptoms and how to get help where necessary.
The Live Well section of the site can provide you with tips for eating better, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising tips, how to improve sleep patterns as well as support for issues with substances such as alcohol.
What the Site Offers:
The NHS provides an online guide for improving your levels of exercise. The advice includes tips on:
• How to build exercise into your day
• A search for events and activities
• A list of disability sports and associations
• A list of national bodies
Here you can search for clubs and forums nationwide and see what there is on offer, while learning about little changes you can make to improve your lifestyle.
Para Dance UK
‘Everyone can dance!’ is the motto of Para Dance UK! The charity is the national governing body for the sport for Para Dancing throughout the country.
UK wheelchair dancing is believed to have been developed in Scotland in the late 1960s. While people were learning how to move their wheelchairs, it was here that it was realised it could be done to music.
In the 70s, the Wheelchair Association began, and in 2006 the co-founders of the charity started the Wheelchair Dance Sport Association (UK), also known as the WDSA (UK). Under the influence of the International Paralympic Committee who rebranded the sport internationally to Para Dance, the WDSA (UK) also adjusted their name in 2017, creating Para Dance UK.
Their goal is to ensure that the sport is promoted in the UK and encouraged as an accessible activity for all to enjoy, especially for those who feel like dancing is something they might not be able to participate in.
What the Site Offers:
The site supplies an in-depth look into the history of the sport, which makes for a fascinating read. They are a source of information for budding dancers by offering information on how they can get involved. The site provides a directory which can ‘Find A Group’ in your local area through merely entering your postcode.
You can also discover a course that Para Dance UK provide and read up on dance competitions.
Activity Alliance is focussed on making sure we all live the most active we possibly can, no matter our abilities. They provide help to other organisations across a range of sectors so they can support the needs of disabled individuals and create inclusive environments.
It is their mission to change their perceptions of what disabled people can achieve and want to make the UK a more comprehensive country.
They work with places such as leisure centres and local and national groups by offering additional support such as:
• Inclusion programmes
What the Site Offers:
The site offers information on inclusive gyms in your area which have been made possible through the Inclusive Fitness Initiative, IFI. This scheme has run for a number of years and has created inclusive gyms and leisure centres by ensuring they are accessible.
You can also search for information on current events and happenings in your local area.
The help doesn’t stop there, as they also provide a ‘Beginners Guide’, with handy hints and tips for those just starting out.
Council for Disabled Children – Transition Information Network
The Transition Information Network (TIN) is an organisation set up by the Council for Disabled Children.
The inspiration behind TIN is to ensure that disabled children have access to activities and sports, which could positively influence their lives.
The site offers a range of activities including:
• Social places
• Weekend clubs
• After school clubs
TIN believes that by encouraging children to join these local communities, they will make more friends and live a happier life.
What the Site Offers:
The site offers a list of activities to charities and groups in the following sectors:
• Clubs and Forums
• Short Breaks
Each area provides a link to the charities and groups within these sectors for individuals to try.
Hopefully, we have provided you with some helpful websites so you can choose a sport to begin! If you have any information on accessible groups and clubs in your local area, we would love to hear from you on our social media channels!
Calvert Trust Exmoor is an accessible site where we want everyone to enjoy themselves! If you require more information about the adventure breaks we offer and are interested in our programmes for Devon adventure activities, please feel free to contact us on 01598 763221 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For those who are not familiar with sign language, it is not uncommon to assume that sign language has one universal signing system. However, this is not the case. It is believed there is anything between 138 to 300 distinct forms of sign language currently used across the planet.
Why is Sign Language Used?
Sign language is used as another way of communicating. It is a language system used mainly by those who have hearing impairments or are Deaf. Unlike the spoken word, where talking out loud is the main form of interaction, Sign Language uses the below as the primary ways of communicating:
• Body language
• Facial expressions
Why Are There So Many Forms of Sign Language?
Similar to verbal language, ways of communicating develop within cultures and groups of people unique to the area they live in. Therefore, these interactions will be different between communities.
Most sign languages systems don’t align with the spoken languages of the environment and tend to be a separate language system.
A good example is the difference between American Sign Language (ASL) and British Sign Language (BSL). Both the spoken languages of these communities are the same; they verbally speak in English. However, sign language differentiates between the two as they are in different areas of the world.
How Sign Language is Developed
It is not unusual for of sign language to advance from a ‘parent sign language’. An example that highlights this can be found in the similarities between ASL and French Sign Language (LSF).
Despite the geographical distance, they bare resemblance due to the introduction of the ‘methodical sign system’ produced in France during the 18th century. Laurent Clerc, a French teacher who was Deaf, shared this system with American Deaf education and created the now named American School for the Deaf.
Similar to accents in spoken language, accents and dialects also exist within sign language. As sign language is more of a secluded form of communication, there tends to be a considerable variation between regions. This is especially prevalent in Britain, between towns and cities across the country.
What Forms of Sign Language are Used in the UK?
Below are the most common forms of sign language used in the UK. As previously mentioned, different regions will slightly differ according to their dialects.
British Sign Language (BSL)
The type of sign language used the most in Britain is British Sign Language, also known as BSL.
Research in 2011 suggested that BSL is used in favour of other sign languages by 145,000 people.
According to the BSL website, it is formed from ‘its own grammatical structure and syntax’. Therefore it is not related to the spoken language of English.
In 2003, BSL was officially regarded as a minority language by the Government after a thorough campaign. As a result, according to the BSL website, awareness for Deaf communications has seen an increase and BSL is recognised in the same way other minority languages are, such as Welsh and Gaelic.
If you would like some more information about British Sign Language, the BSL website provides further guidance and support. You can also discover how you can take a course in BSL.
Influence in Wales
A more recent advancement, a project by Mudiad Meithrin in Wales is prepared to teach BSL to young students through the spoken language of Welsh as opposed to English.
Irish Sign Language
Also known as ISL, Irish Sign Language is mainly used in the Republic of Ireland but is also exercised in Northern Ireland. BSL is also commonly used in Northern Ireland too.
ISL tends to have similarities to French Sign Language but has a bit of inspiration from BSL too. Like BSL, it doesn’t bear a resemblance to spoken English or Irish.
However, an intriguing aspect of ISL is its gender sign language. Due to the separate male and female schools, sign languages may differ between the two.
Sign Supported English (SSE)
Sign Supported English is not a language on its own. The signs used are the same as those used in BSL. However, the signs are expressed in the same order as the spoken language of English is communicated.
The key use of SSE is to accompany the learning process of those who have hearing impairments and are learning English grammar as well as sign language.
Makaton is also used as a support alongside spoken language, for those who may need assistance with communication or learning difficulties. It could help the learning development of someone who has Down Syndrome, a neurological disorder or a language impairment, for example.
If you are interested to discover how outdoor learning can also help child development as an educational tool, take a look at our blog on Why Learning Outside the Classroom is Important.
Calvert Trust Exmoor is an accessible site where we welcome everyone! If you require more information about the adventure breaks we offer and are interested in our programmes for charity holidays for disabled people, please feel free to contact us on 01598 763221 or e-mail us at email@example.com.
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.