It’s World Autism Awareness Week from 27 March to 2 April. With around 1 in 100-110 Australians living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the event encourages all people to better understand Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and ensure people with ASD feel included and treated as equals in society.

Kerrin Braithwaite is a Psychologist and Team Leader in our Therapy team, and frequently works with children with ASD. She recently spoke to us about some of the facts about Autism. In this discussion, we chat to her about how we can make people with ASD feel comfortable and included in society.

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Kerrin Braithwaite, Psychologist and Team Leader in our Therapy team.

What are some of the common misconceptions about Autism?

People often believe that they understand ASD after knowing one person who has ASD.  This is such a misconception.  People with ASD are unique.  Each individual has his or her own strengths, needs and areas of difficulty.

Sometimes actions of a child with ASD can be interpreted by others as poor behaviour. Parents often tell me that they choose to stay at home rather than risk being judged in the community.  Likewise, a person can appear rude in a conversation as a result of not understanding the social rules.  For example, a person may make an unfavorable remark regarding another’s appearance.

What are some of the challenges for people with Autism and their families?

Just as there are many different ways that a person with ASD might present, the challenges faced by each individual can be different. We know that some people with ASD might find crowds and noisy environments to be overwhelming.  I’ve met many children for example, for whom the sound of a hand dryer in public restrooms is a painful experience.  People with ASD often struggle to understand spoken conversations and social cues. The world of pictures can make more sense, yet so many messages in our community are spoken. Missing the context of an instruction or message can be really confusing and lead a person to feeling worried and frustrated. Sometimes, as a result of uncertainty around language and social rules, a person with ASD can say the ‘wrong’ thing in a conversation without realising,  turning  a simple chat into a potential minefield.

How can we help people with Autism feel comfortable and included?

When meeting a person with ASD, as when we meet any new person, we can spend time noticing things about them and adjusting our behaviour to match. We can have a chat with the person and their family to learn more about them.  Are they comfortable being near us?  Do they seem to want to talk to us, and is there a topic that they feel comfortable with?  Maybe the person would prefer that we do an activity together at which there will be less pressure to talk.  Routine and predictability are likely to make activities easier to understand and more comfortable than impulsive, random actions and activities.  Perhaps  a visual indication of the steps of an activity or order of daily activities will provide the person with a clear view of what to expect – which can reduce worry.

Scope is a registered provider under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). If you would like to find out more about how we can support you, visit the services page of our website.