One key objective when you support someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder is to allow them to be more independent. Therefore, understanding how to enable and empower them, without undermining them, is a great step on this journey.
Knowledge is Power
One of the important things to understand is that Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder with widely varying degrees and range of symptoms. ASD is usually diagnosed in early childhood in response to the demands of socialisation. It continues through to adult life, though the form may be greatly modified by experience and education. What this practically means is that a person with ASD struggles with social relationships varying from mild impairment to almost complete lack of interaction in initiating or responding to others.
A person with ASD tends to use few of the usual physical signals most people use—eye contact, hand gestures, smiles, and nods. In turn, they have trouble adapting their behaviour to different social situations. Repetition and narrow focus characterize their activities and interests, with some people with ASD fascinated by movement such as spinning small objects, while others with ASD might be fascinated with smells, sounds or the feel of certain fabrics. Therefore, how to support someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder will also vary between individuals.
6 Essential Features of Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Difficulties with verbal non-verbal communication.
- Battling with social interaction.
- Needing routine and familiarity, as adapting to change is problematic
- Restricted interests.
- Repetitive behaviour, e.g. movement, speech or use of objects.
- Sensitivity to aspects of the environment, e.g. temperature, textures, smelling or touching objects.
Where to Start with Children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Keep a positive attitude and don’t give up. Understand ASD so that you can have realistic expectations.
- Make informed decisions and be an active part of defining a treatment path with your child’s mental health professional to optimise your child’s lifelong learning path of growing and developing abilities.
- Become an expert on your child so that you can understand their environmental triggers, what helps them engage with the world around them and what they enjoy. Join them in an activity even if it is repetitive. When a child becomes attentive and interacts with you, you can expand the shared activity to promote communication and social skills.
- Enjoy the individuality of your child – quirks and all – so that you can celebrate successes rather than focus on differences between them and other kids.
- For non-verbal children with difficulties, teach communication skills by means of symbols/pictures in order to represent desired objects/actions. For example, a child chooses a picture of a desired food, and receives the food in exchange for the picture.
- Develop a support network, for yourself and your child. Share where you’re at with family and friends. Join constructive positive online or in-person support groups to assist with learning how others address a child’s individual needs.
Explaining ASD to Family, Friends and Kids
You are going to need to process the diagnosis yourself and do some research. Firstly, to answer your own questions, secondly to better understand essential features of ASD and how to best assist your child. And then to be able to easily explain and unpack what ASD is with those around you. This will assist you in creating a great long-term sustainable support network for both you and the person with ASD.
5 Tips on How to Explain ASD
- Provide background information by explaining the basics and clarifying general misconceptions about ASD.
- Offer resources for further reading.
- Share specific information in relation to the ASD and behaviours of the individual child or adult you’re sharing about.
- Suggest ways to interact and approaches that have proven to be successful. This doesn’t mean sharing the whole treatment plan, but rather pertinent do’s and don’ts relating to the specific individual.
- Emphasise how important routine is and ensuring the planned daily schedule is adhered to.
How to Provide Support to Caregiver with a Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Supporting someone who has a child with ASD means understanding the specifics of their child and asking them how they would like to be supported. They may need someone to babysit and give them a breather. Or they may want someone empathetic to chat to or be able to ask to drop off a meal when things get particularly tough.
How to Interact with a Child with ASD
- Be consistent in how you communicate as well as in your interactions.
- Understand and know their schedule, so that you can be part of their routine and not disrupt it.
- Assist with providing positive reinforcement by knowing what behaviour is expected and rewarded. Then praise accordingly.
- Use pictures, sounds, gestures or facial expressions, to encourage interaction with others and communication skills. In this way you will be able to better understand what is needed and when it is being asked for.
- Think of fun things to do that keep in mind the sensory sensitivities specific to the child and schedule time to enjoy being with them.
How to Provide Support to an Adult with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Many adults with ASD have strengths in particular areas. Finding out what these are can help you build a bond with them and make interactions easier. Common areas of strengths include maths, science, music and art. People with ASD tend to remember things in detail for long periods of time. This means that if they ask questions, get back to them if you are not quite sure of an answer rather than guessing. They are more likely to remember what you said than you are!
Often someone with ASD can miss social cues and doesn’t quite understand boundaries. However, when things are unpacked in a kind and non-judgemental educational manner, without beating around the bush, no offence will be taken. For instance, if a conversation doesn’t seem to end and you need to leave, don’t hint. Simply say to them that you’ve enjoyed chatting but need to say cheers, so you will catch up again another time. Similarly, if they stand too close to you or are a bit too touchy, step back and explain you need a bit more space to be able to chat to them comfortably.
How to Support a Work Colleague with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Within a workplace, don’t hesitate to get to know someone with ASD. While they may be a little quirky they can often add a different perspective and insight into things. By showing them respect, being patient and compassionate, you will be able to understand their specific challenges and draw on their strengths.
ASD is a lifelong journey that impacts everyday life. Being equipped to build better and more suitably supportive relationships, with those who have ASD or care for someone diagnosed with ASD, is a valuable life-skill to have. As ASD is becoming more common, it is also going to become increasingly more important to be able to have increased awareness of ASD. There is hope for significant gains for children who receive intensive interventions in the first few years of life.
If you are interested in providing support to families of and people with ASD then enquire today about how to become a psychologist or social worker. SACAP offers courses which are internationally recognised and have full-time, part-time and online learning options.
1. How do you explain ASD to someone?
First research and know what you are talking about. Then understand how ASD impacts the everyday life of the person being discussed. Be prepared to provide additional resources and be open to answering questions, while respectfully maintaining the privacy of the Autistic person.
2. Where to start if my child has ASD?
Understand the individual diagnosis of your child, become an expert on your child’s challenges, triggers and strengths and build a support network you can lean on when things get tough.
How do you interact with an Autistic child?
Ask their primary caregiver to outline their individual diagnosis and if they have suggestions on how best to interact with their Autistic child. Plan fun activities, tailored to the child’s sensory needs, within their scheduled routine and reenforcing good behaviour with praise.