How can we better support Autistic Individuals?

How can we better support Autistic Individuals?

Firstly, I would like to state that I will be utilising identity-first language (autistic person) throughout this blog rather than person-first language (person with autism) as this has been widely reported as the preferred language.

What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain.

Autistic people often have problems with social communication and interaction and restricted or repetitive behaviours or interests. Autistic individuals may also have different ways of learning, moving, or paying attention. These characteristics can make life very challenging (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022).

How can Autism affect an individual’s ability to perform daily tasks?

We have to remind ourselves that Autism is not the same for everybody. Just because you know one person on the spectrum does not mean you know them all.

“Autism is not a disability, it’s a different ability.” — STUART DUNCAN
  • ASD can impact social communication skills – initiating conversation, maintaining conversation, knowing what to talk about or being able to read social cues and body language.
  • Often Autistic individuals will have difficulty with the performance of self-care.
  • Fine motor and gross motor skills can also be impacted.
  • Emotional regulation is not something that comes naturally – however, it can be taught!
  • Difficulty with cognitive functioning such as problem-solving, attention and memory is a common trait of ASD.
  • Adaptive behaviour skills can also be impaired resulting in maladaptive behaviours.
  • Autistic individuals may experience the sensory environment differently from neurotypical individuals, which can impact all aspects of their day-to-day life.

What can we do as OTs to support Autistic Individuals?

As occupational therapists, we can assist in facilitating the development, improvement, or maintenance of skills. As well as providing alternative ways of performing a task, we can also modify the environment to enable an individual to participate in their everyday life activities.

These are a few things that we keep in mind when working with an Autistic Individual.

“If they can’t learn the way we teach, we teach the way they learn.” — DR OLE IVAR LOVAAS
  1. First remember that each person is an individual no matter the diagnosis, and there is no one strategy that will work for everyone.
  2. Just as we would with neurotypical individuals, we first need to identify the goals and the barriers before achieving each milestone.
  3. It is important for us to remember that behaviour is often a form of communication. So, how can we optimise opportunities to communicate? Is there a speech pathologist involved that can provide assistance with receptive and expressive language?
  4. Be aware of the environmental set-up and any sensory issues – set the individual up for success!
  5. As OTs, we can work on cognitive functioning including problem-solving, attention, memory and recall. We can use this knowledge to adapt how we teach certain skills.
  6. Have you heard of ASD Burnout? As OTs, we can play an important role in providing strategies to reduce masking as well as fatigue management to assist with reducing burnout.
  7. The key to success is a collaborative approach. Liaise with all the key stakeholders including other allied health professionals such as the speech pathologist and the behavioural support practitioner or psychologist, for their input.
  8. Provide opportunities for breaks throughout sessions. Too much can be overwhelming for anyone.
  9. Monitor the individual’s progress with their goals. How can we adapt or change our approach to give them the best chance at success?
  10. Acknowledge and celebrate the small wins.

What is one main thing that I have learnt as an OT from working with Autistic Individuals?

The behaviours we see are often as a direct result of poor adaptive skills, impaired communication skills, inability to read basic social cues, the way the environment has been set up, the difficulty of the task or even the way we have approached the autistic person.

As OTs, we might not get it right all the time, and we need to learn to adapt the way we teach to suit the individual.

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