Our quick tips may help you to communicate more effectively with an autistic person, whether it’s your child, pupil, colleague, or friend.
1. Getting and keeping their attention
- Always use their name at the beginning so that they know you are talking to them.
- Make sure they are paying attention before you ask a question or give an instruction. The signs that someone is paying attention will be different for different people.
- Use their hobbies and interests, or the activity they are currently doing, to engage them.
2. Processing information
An autistic person can find it difficult to filter out the less important information. If there is too much information, it can lead to ‘overload’, where no further information can be processed. To help:
- Say less and say it slowly
- Use specific keywords, repeating and stressing them
- Pause between words and phrases to give the person time to process what you’ve said, and to give them a chance to think of a response
- Don’t use too many questions
- Use less non-verbal communication (eg eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, body language)
- Use visual supports (eg symbols, timetables, social stories) if appropriate
- Be aware of the environment (noisy/crowded) that you are in. Sensory differences may be affecting how much someone can process.
3. Avoiding open-ended questions
- Keep questions short
- Ask only the most necessary questions
- Structure your questions, eg you could offer options or choices
- Be specific. For example, ask “Did you enjoy your lunch?” and “Did you enjoy maths?” rather than “How was your day?”.
4. Ways to ask for help
If appropriate, give autistic people a visual help card to use to ask for help.
5. Being clear
Avoid using irony, sarcasm, figurative language, rhetorical questions, idioms, or exaggeration as autistic people can take these literally. If you do use these, explain what you have said and be clear about what you really mean to say.
6. Distressed behavior
- Use a behavior diary to work out if the behavior is a way of telling you something.
- Offer other ways of expressing ‘no’ or ‘stop’.
7. Reactions to “no”
- Try using a different word or symbol.
- Autistic people may be confused about why you said no. If it’s an activity that they can do later on that day or week, try showing this in a timetable.
- ‘No’ is often used when someone is putting themselves or others in danger. If it’s a safety issue, look at ways of explaining danger and safety.
- If you are saying ‘no’ because someone is behaving inappropriately, you may want to change your reaction to their behavior. Try not to shout or give too much attention, a calm reaction may help to decrease this behavior in time.
- Set clear boundaries and explain why and where it is acceptable and not acceptable to behave in certain ways.