‘…………..By Paddy-Joe Moran
Small things can have a massive impact on how an autistic person feels in an appointment. Here one blogger gives his golden rules for social care professionals
As a person with autism, when I have had dealings with social care professionals during assessments and other meetings, I have found them in the most part to be perfectly competent. But there are often several small things that let them down – or rather things that may seem small to them. These details can have a massive impact on how the autistic individual feels during and after an assessment or meeting. They may appear to be basic, but it is incredible how many professionals would benefit from adopting them.
I had an appointment a few months ago with a psychologist to assess the help I would need at university. I was told this would last an hour and a half. Perhaps it was my fault for taking this literally to some degree, but the assessment lasted nearly three hours.
There were a number of other things that went wrong, but the thing I found hardest to cope with is that it just seemed to drag on and on. I was simply in there too long, and became overwhelmed and overloaded. Add to this the uncertainty of not knowing when the appointment would finish, and having my plans disrupted, and it was an extremely stressful time.
Professionals need to be sure that they have a reasonable time limit on their appointments and that they stick to this. People with autism may lose concentration and focus after a certain amount of time anyway, so overly-long appointments are worthless for everybody.
I went in to my assessment underprepared. I was expecting to be given a list of tasks I would need to perform, and a rough idea of how long each would take. Instead I had no clue what was going to be asked of me.
It is not difficult for a professional to let the autistic person know what is planned. Going in to an appointment without having any idea of what it will entail is difficult for anybody, but for someone with autism it can be nearly impossible, and can induce physical illness as well as anxiety and stress.
Stick to the plan
If you say you are going to do something, then do it. And if you make a plan with somebody, stick to it. Even if it seems that the autistic person is the one wanting to go off plan, or you think that they are doing so well that you can just change something, don’t be tempted to do so.
Ask specific questions
Autistic people may struggle with answering questions at the best of times, but vague, open-ended queries are extremely unhelpful. The question might not sound particularly vague to the person asking it, such as “how do you find using public transport?” But for somebody with autism the answer to this might vary depending on the time of day, how busy it is, whether there are delays, how frequently they use it, how well they know their destination, and many other things.
Autistic people may also tell half the story, and say that they find it fine travelling on public transport, but fail to say that they have to have a parent with them at all times when they do so. Therefore ask more specific questions such as “The last time you were on the bus did you feel overwhelmed?”. If they say yes you can ask if the bus was busy or not, and then go from there. This method will take more time, but asking only big, open-ended questions means you miss out on a lot of valuable information.
Some of this advice might seem obvious, but from my personal experiences, and the experiences of others, these tips aren’t used enough by professionals. Putting them in to practise may mean a bit more effort and focus, but this is just part of working with autistic people.