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Supporting Autistic Colleagues and Customers: Communication and Sensory Considerations


In any workplace, understanding and respecting the diverse needs of our colleagues and customers is key to creating an inclusive environment.


This short guide offers practical tips on how to support people who might be autistic, considering possible communication preferences and sensory sensitivities. These tips apply equally to customers and colleagues, and are designed to make your place of work more accommodating and comfortable for everyone.


Communication


  • The person may need a little extra time to process information and instructions. Please be patient, and allow them time to respond.

  • Eye contact can be extremely uncomfortable, even painful. If the person makes little or no eye contact, it does not mean they are not listening. It may be easier for them to concentrate and take in information if they do not make eye contact.

  • Try to keep instructions/directions relatively simple (one thing at a time).

  • Consider offering written information instead of or as well as verbal.

  • Avoid vague information or timescales (e.g. “in due course”). Be specific about what the person needs to do and when, and what you will do and when.

  • Don’t make promises (yourself, or on behalf of someone else) unless you are as sure as you can be that they will be kept.

  • Be aware that some autistic people speak plainly and directly and, as a result, may come across as insensitive or rude. This is not intentional.


Physical Environment and Sensory Difficulties


  • Noisy, crowded environments can be overwhelming. Is there a quieter area you could take the person to?

  • Background music can be extremely uncomfortable for some autistic people. Can the volume be lowered or the music turned off?

  • Lighting can be problematic. Is it possible to dim the lights or turn them off?

  • Movement and patterns can be confusing and stressful, and may impact on a person’s ability to concentrate.

  • Touch can be uncomfortable or painful. Perhaps consider asking, “Do you shake hands?", explaining that it is fine if the person prefers not to. Don't assume a person is comfortable with physical contact.

  • Smells can be very unpleasant, even those that most people like. Hand gels, foods, and cleaning chemicals, for example, can make some people feel unwell and nauseous.

  • Tastes can be unpleasant and nauseating, even things most people enjoy.

  • Some people may have difficulties with coordination and balance. Are there ways you could make it easier and safer for them to move about in the environment?


Remember: every autistic person is different, and individual challenges and needs will vary greatly. The person may well know and be able to say what would help them feel more comfortable; so if in doubt – ask them and be guided by them.


 

This post was originally written by Sandra J Robilliard (2016) and has been updated for the blog. Thanks Sandra 😃

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