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Autism Awareness Month:
Facts and Tips for Working with Individuals on the Autism Spectrum



  • According to Indiana’s child count data for school year 2014-2015, the incidence rate for students identified within an autism spectrum disorder is 1 in 71. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report in 2010 which looked at a sample of 8 year olds, and they concluded that the prevalence of autism had risen to 1 in 68 in American children. Two years ago, in a phone interview with 100,000 families, CDC reported that the incidence may now be as high as 1 in 50. Different methods were used in determining each of these incidence rates. Regardless, it remains clear that ASD is on the rise. Each year brings new cases of ASD, and many who present complex challenges.

  • The other reality is that many of these children come with complex issues and support needs. According to the CDC, ASD commonly co-occurs with other developmental, psychiatric, neurologic, chromosomal, and genetic diagnoses. The co-occurrence of one or more non-ASD developmental diagnoses is 83%. The co-occurrence of one or more psychiatric diagnoses is 10%. The potential impact on our schools and other service delivery systems continues to be tremendous. The strain on families is very real and significant.

  • According to the CDC, it is estimated to cost at least $17,000 more per year to care for a child with ASD compared to a child without ASD. Costs include health care, education, ASD-related therapy, family-coordinated services, and caregiver time. For a child with more severe ASD, costs per year increase to over $21,000. It is important to note that education services and an array of supports are needed for children and adults on the autism spectrum to live, learn, and work successfully in our communities.

For more information on the Indiana Resource Center for Autism, visit our website at Also be sure to “like” us on Facebook and join us on Twitter and Pinterest.

For more information on the Autism Society of Indiana, visit their website at Also be sure to “like” ASI on Facebook and join them on Twitter and Pinterest.


Remember that each person is different, and specific tips may not apply to all.

  • Think about “showing” rather than “telling” when you are trying to teach something new. Presenting the individual with an object, picture, or written information will be more effective than just verbally instructing.

  • When trying to foster friendships for teens or adults with ASD, connecting them with people who have similar interests (e.g., attending a Japanese Anime conference or enrolling in a chess club) is likely to be more effective than attempting to teach them to interact around interests that seem more typical for their age group, such as team sports.

  • Sensory differences can manifest in sensory seeking, sensory avoiding, hyper-responses, and hypo-responses. Carefully consider an individual’s sensory needs when developing strategies to help them adapt to their environment and to respond purposefully. The sensory strategies chosen should match the need, with the ultimate goal being for an individual to respond adaptively and to maintain an optimal arousal level. Consult with an OT, when possible, for strategies.

  • Anxiety is a game changer for individuals on the autism spectrum. Remember that sensory issues can also manifest as anxiety. Provide opportunities to manage anxiety through providing embedded sensory strategies, such as movement breaks, calming input, and through self-monitoring with visuals. One example of self-monitoring would be to create or use an anxiety scale (

  • Teach your children/students early in life the difference between private and public places. Private is only in your bedroom with the door closed. All other places are public (e.g., school bus, school restroom, classroom, living room, etc.). This information will be especially helpful as they continue through puberty.

  • Consider teaching your child/student how to engage in “small talk” which is a quick way to connect with others about informal topics. One can have a short reciprocal conversation about the environment, a weekend experience, the weather, sports, television shows, or a movie they recently encountered. This is a good way to help the individual to start to feel comfortable around various types of people and to learn how to start and end a conversation.

  • Uncertainty creates anxiety that, in turn, reduces the person’s ability to attend and learn. It also increases the risk of tantrums, rage, and meltdowns. Individuals on the autism spectrum need reassurance and information about upcoming events and changes. 

  • The manner in which an individual conveys a message may not indicate its significance or true meaning. Individuals may use a monotone voice with little facial expression to discuss an item of importance or even urgency. To detect the true meaning of a message, listen to the individual, interpret what he/she is saying literally, and probe. 

  • Individuals on the spectrum will read our emotional level about a situation. Use a calm tone of voice, even in the midst of a behavioral outburst. Excited adults yield excited children. Practice your poker face. 

  • Think of individuals on the spectrum as having a limited amount of energy available to them each day. Their energy “reserve” can vary from day to day. What seems like a simple task to us may be overwhelming and exhausting to them.

  • Visual supports are beneficial even after the child no longer seems to “need” them. Many of us need and use them as well. Consider how to transition visual supports to life skills for scheduling, organization, and self-management. Do not discontinue their use without a conversation with the individual’s team. In times of stress, these visual supports may be a great support throughout their lifetime.

  • Carefully consider communication needs. If an individual has difficulty with communicating wants and needs or with requesting help, they may become frustrated or upset. Don’t assume that because an individual is highly verbal that they have skills to cope and adequately communicate when stressed or in unfamiliar situations. 

  • Individuals on the spectrum often have difficulty with social skills. It is part of the diagnosis. However, simply teaching social skills is insufficient. The goal should be to facilitate relationships and establish connections. Many individuals on the spectrum want to date, develop friendships, and even have families. Their desires are often not so different from ours.

  • Be consistent with praise and positive information. Minimize negative comments and punishment. Individuals with an ASD learn by being told what to do and what is expected in a positive fashion. Telling an individual what not to do does not teach them what to do and frequently makes matters worse. It is easy to resort to negative comments and punishment because you are frustrated and convinced your child/student is not listening and/or is choosing to disobey because “they have been told many times and they should know better.” Realize the individual on the autism spectrum is likely frustrated also and cannot figure out “what to do,” especially when emotions are high.

  • Work with and build upon the individual’s interests. Learn to enjoy your child’s/student’s unique perspective. Using their interests may be the best way to teach important skills. Be creative. These interests and strengths, when used to help a person learn, can lead to exciting accomplishments.

  • When trying to extinguish unacceptable behavior, always identify an alternative skill or replacement behavior. And when you are targeting a behavior, be sure to choose your battles carefully.   Sometimes focusing too much attention on a behavior may actually intensify that behavior.

  • Stay in close contact with family members and physicians about what is working and what is not, especially when individuals are on medications.

  • The transition process begins at the moment of diagnosis. We are continually transitioning people across grade levels and settings and, ultimately, into adulthood. Be sure to plan for all transitions and begin with the end in mind. What are the ultimate and desired outcomes? Consider the skills and behaviors individuals will need as adults and begin teaching at an early age.

  • Set priorities and make a plan. Identify the top few concerns and needs for your child and your family. Start addressing these concerns and needs, and let everything else wait. While focusing on top concerns, you need to remember to leave time to focus on fun and “typical” activities, whatever those are for your family. 

  • Acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of yourself (regardless of your role), of all family members, and of the individual whether they are small or large. For some on the autism spectrum, small steps are a major accomplishment. Be proud and remember that all accomplishments are important. Also, family members, don’t forget to acknowledge the accomplishments of your other children and spouse or partner whether large or small.

Organized by Dr. Cathy Pratt BCBA-D, Director, Indiana Resource Center for Autism, Indiana Institute on Disability and Community. Visit our website at or visit us on Facebook.

Rev. 2015

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