Autism Awareness Month:
Tips for Working with Individuals
on the Autism Spectrum
Compiled by Indiana Resource Center for Autism and Autism Society of Indiana
Remember that each person is different, and specific tips may not apply to all.
- Many capable individuals on the autism spectrum have significant organizational difficulties. For example, these individuals will often complete their homework but forget to turn it in. Expecting organizational skills to simply improve over time will not be as effective as putting support strategies in place, such as written checklists and reminders, while providing direct guidance and instruction. Eventually, the people can be taught to generate their own checklists and reminders.
- Teach your child/students how to advocate for their own needs. This skill will become essential as they transition from school to the adult world. It could be as simple as teaching them to request their favorite food by handing you a picture, or for someone with more verbal skills to explain their communication and accommodation needs to their college professor.
- When making changes in plans and strategies, call parents (not email) to talk over ideas. Ask them to help prepare the student/child for the plan too.
- Remember to take baseline data before starting a new evidence-based practice. This will assist in determining the effectiveness of the strategy and in shifting instructional approaches as needed. Data collection should be continued during and after the intervention to ensure maintenance of learned skills.
- When teaching a new skill or behavior, address student motivation by using highly motivating reinforcers. Highly motivating reinforcers may include fixations or fascinations. To ensure they are true reinforcers, use a reinforcer survey or sampling procedure with the learner. Be sure all staff know what skill is being reinforced and how often. Be consistent.
- For parents/caregivers: Keep a record of treatment options and medications you try and how your child responds to each one.
- For professionals: Remember to individualize visual supports you create to match the student’s abilities and interests. Do not overwhelm with visual supports. Make sure each serves a real purpose. Visit the website at the Indiana Resource Center for Autism at https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/pages/visualsupports for a full catalogue of visual supports.
- Remember that, particularly for persons who do not communicate verbally, their behavior is a form of communication. Try to determine the pattern of behavior. Think "outside the box." If you are stumped, ask other parents and professionals what might be the underlying cause(s) of behaviors.
- Know that just because your child/student may be nonverbal, he or she is still able to hear and understand what you and others say around them. Make sure all messages are as positive as possible.
- Individuals with autism spectrum disorder often lack perspective-taking skills. When watching a movie or looking at pictures of people, practice these skills by asking them questions about how the person is feeling, what they are thinking, and what they are going to do next. Have them explain and point out the specific cues that support their ideas.
- It is important to teach individuals on the autism spectrum how to think socially and interact successfully with others. As with all people, this should begin as early as possible. Help individuals on the autism spectrum establish connections with others by developing appropriate social scripts and routines, and by supporting them to interact with others on a daily basis. This will assist social and emotional development which is critical for all people.
- Breaks and calming strategies should be considered as part of the daily routine for many individuals on the autism spectrum. A pre-determined routine should be implemented on a daily basis to ease anxiety. Breaks and calming techniques are needed before an individual on the autism spectrum gets overwhelmed. Providing breaks and calming techniques only after a problem behavior occurs may inadvertently reinforce the behavior. By using a respectful and proactive approach, the individual will build self-esteem and confidence, and reduce anxiety.
- Overwhelming sensory input in young children can heighten fear and sensory issues. As a result, the child/student on the autism spectrum may develop repetitive behaviors and might increasingly fail to respond to relevant stimulation for social and language development. Therefore, it is critical that sensory issues are identified and strategies implemented as early as possible.
- Be aware of potential sensory issues in the individual’s environment. Consider the visual input (e.g. fluorescent or bright lights), auditory input (e.g. loud noises), tactile input (e.g. certain surfaces, textures, fabrics), and smell/tastes (strong perfumes or certain food textures) that may be bothering the individual with autism spectrum disorder.
- Many times an individual with ASD will display undesirable behavior due to the lack of ability to communicate. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) refers to communication methods that help or replace speaking or writing, and assist in producing or comprehending spoken or written language. If a child with ASD is having difficulty communicating or being understood, they may benefit from some type of AAC. It is your right as a parent to ask your child’s teacher for an AAC evaluation or to question if and how your child could benefit from AAC. If your child is not talking by 18-30 months, he/she should have some type of AAC.
- Help your child with self-help activities such as getting dressed, eating breakfast, and brushing teeth. Create routines by doing these activities at the same time and in the same way every day. Break down the task into small steps. Show pictures of each step. You can also pretend to do the activity yourself, saying the next step out loud or even singing songs with directions. Make it fun.
- Help your child play with others. Teach them to share and to take turns through use of visuals, modeling, prompting, and practice. Host a play date at your house. By playing at your house, your child has more control over the activities. You can also control the amount and type of stimulation. When your child shares and takes turns appropriately, praise and reinforce his or her great behavior.
- 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.
- If a student is not able to perform a task, consider whether the request is too abstract. For example, telling a student to write a story about something that interests them is very abstract. One strategy is to provide specific choices.
- Uncertainty creates anxiety that, in turn, reduces the person’s ability to attend and learn. It also increases the risk of tantrums, aggression, and meltdowns. Individuals on the autism spectrum need reassurance and information about upcoming events and changes. They may benefit from having a schedule of daily events and/or reading social stories about changes to their schedule that they are about to experience (e.g. social story about fire alarms or school assemblies).
- In addition to changes in schedules, unstructured activities and wait time may also create anxiety and confusion for some individuals on the spectrum. Individuals may need specific directions and checklists of what to do during unstructured activities. During long wait times (e.g. waiting for the school bus to arrive), a box of wait time activities, such as books, toys, or sensory items can be helpful.
- Much of our efforts with individuals on the spectrum becomes a balancing act. For example, many will need accommodations. The challenge becomes determining how much to accommodate without accommodating them so much that options in the future are eliminated.
- 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.
- Many individuals with autism spectrum disorder may be less likely to communicate for social purposes and will need to practice their conversation skills. This may include talking about a topic that is not their special interest, staying on topic, turn taking, asking related/appropriate questions, checking for their conversation partner’s understanding and predicting what information their partner may or may not know about a concept or situation.
- Some individuals will engage in restricted and repetitive behaviors because they have a limited repertoire of alternative behaviors and interests. It is important to expose individuals with ASD to a variety of activities and experiences and explicitly teach them leisure skills.
- Sleep issues is a problem for many individuals on the autism spectrum. Children and adolescents should keep a consistent bedtime routine, have a regular sleep/wake schedule, and avoid caffeine and screen time before bed.
- Individuals with ASD often have difficulty generalizing skills from one setting to another. A student who has learned to initiate conversations within the lunchroom may not be able to initiate conversations on the playground. They may need to be taught skills across different settings, people, and activities.
- 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.
For more information on the Indiana Resource Center for Autism, visit our website at https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca. Also be sure to “like” IRCA on Facebook and join us on Twitter and Pinterest.
For more information on the Autism Society of Indiana, visit their website at http://www.autismsocietyofindiana.org/. Also be sure to “like” ASI on Facebook and join them on Twitter.
Indiana Resource Center for Autism & Autism Society of Indiana. Autism awareness month: Tips for working with individuals on the autism spectrum. The Reporter, 21(18). Retrieved from https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/pages/autism-awareness-month-a-facts-andtips-for-working-with-individuals-on-the-autism-spectrum.