As writer Mark Twain once so eloquently described, “Kindness is the language which the deaf
Have you ever felt unprepared when communicating with someone who has autism? Have you ever come across as insensitive to someone with autism? Would you even be able to tell if you had caused offence to them or to their family and friends? To improve your understanding and knowledge, here are some tips on socialising and working with the disabled community regardless of whether you are a disability support worker, or have a friend, colleague or family member with a disability.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Everyone is unique in terms of how their disability affects them, and how they respond to a wide range of situations. When it comes to Autism, this is an umbrella term which encompasses Autistic disorder, Asperger’s syndrome and atypical autism. Typically, people with autism have difficulties in social interactions, verbal and non-verbal communication as autism affects the way information is taken in and stored in the brain. Additionally, many people with autism also have sensory sensitivities such as over or under sensitivity to sound, smell, sight, touch, taste, pain or temperature.
Some characteristics of Asperger’s syndrome include difficulty in forming friendships, eccentricity, sensitivity to criticism and an inability to understand that communication involves listening as well as talking. Those with Asperger’s syndrome are typically of average or above average intelligence, and may have a narrow field of interests such as learning everything to do with cars or a particular sport.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Now that you know the sensory sensitivities, along with the communication and behaviour difficulties that may be present with Autism Spectrum Disorder – take careful consideration from their perspective. Analyse the situation you are in and how you can change your own language and your own behaviour to make this person feel more comfortable.
When it comes to working with or interacting with someone who has autism, we can reduce the need to plan and explain every day by instead building predictable environments and settling into a routine. This sets expectations, creates a structure for daily life and provides a sense of comfort and security. When we formulate and commit to a routine, this gives us a feeling of control and helps us relax instead of fretting about what will happen next.
Avoid Shocks & Surprises
It is always best to inform people with Autism Spectrum Disorder about what is going to happen before it occurs, especially since people with autism can struggle to pick up subtle cues and are most comfortable when they stick to a known and well-established routine. Also keep in mind that a person with Asperger’s syndrome may take a very literal understanding of what has been said. For example, when asked to ‘get lost’ as in go away, a person with Asperger’s syndrome will become confused and may feel like you are telling them to literally try to get lost.
Overall, if you incorporate the above tips and be thoughtful and respectful when communicating with someone who has autism, it will not only make you feel more comfortable and prepared but will also act as an example to others on how to make our community more inclusive to those who have autism.
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