Top ten tips: Working with an autistic person

Autism affects different people in different ways and to varying degrees. This means that one cannot make an assumption about the needs of any autistic individual. An autistic person who doesn’t also have learning disability may suffer high anxiety in certain situations, or have difficulty with certain social interactions, or may simply thrive in a well structured environment.

The following points are not recommendations for a ‘typical’ autistic person, as no such person exists. However, these suggestions are good for any working environment, but may be of particular help to an autistic person.

  1. Be clear in instruction, by using clear and simple language. Plays on words and undertones of sarcasm, satire or ambiguity can be confusing.
  2. Remove barriers to receiving instruction; for example, being in a quiet environment. Loud noises are distracting for anyone!
  3. Be methodical in your approach – don’t confuse timelines e.g.., ‘Can you do y in-between doing x and z …’. Instead, use order ‘Please do x, y and z’.
  4. Someone you’re talking to may have a lot more going on in their mind than just your conversation. Enable a person to respond in their own time – don’t rush them, respond for them or move onto another topic.
  5. No-one likes surprises! If something is going to change, inform those affected in a clear and calm way as early as possible to allow for the change to be accommodated.
  6. Be mindful of the needs of others and actively seek to change your approach to accommodate any additional support which a co-worker or employee may have.
  7. If someone becomes overwhelmed or agitated, speak to them in quieter moments about ways in which that person copes and how you can help. One person may prefer some time alone whilst another may appreciate a supportive or soothing approach from someone they usually feel at ease with.
  8. Ensure people take the breaks they are entitled to providing a rest from ongoing interactions if needed. For an autistic person, this ‘down-time’ may be particularly beneficial to help them cope with the stresses that social interactions may bring.
  9. Don’t take offence if an autistic person is unwittingly rude or inappropriate as social situations can be exceptionally challenging for some.
  10. Be adaptable and vigilant. We all have preferences at work, but someone with support needs requires that measures are in place and considerations made for them to function and communicate as well as they can in the workplace.

Again, these suggestions are simply good practice, but may be particularly helpful to someone who is autistic.

NHS Inform explains the terms people use now, and have used in the past, for autism.  This blog post is worded according to the guidance there.