Physical environment

  1. Having a consistent structure e.g. rules, schedules, time tables, checklists, task‐based activities, and concise questioning may all help provide a structured environment that will aid decision making and task focus.
  2. Meaningful communication: As many children and young people with autism tend to be visual learners, sometimes words alone can be difficult for the child or young person with autism to understand. Utilising visuals such as signage, picture cards and “situational narratives” can assist in communicating your message to the child or young person with autism.
    • Visual Research Bulletin

      Tip to Remember

      Check that what you have communicated to the child or young person with autism has been understood. Consider using a strategy such as Who, What, When, Where, and How to establish context.

  3. Predictability: Changes can cause huge difficulties and upset the child or young person with autism.
    1. Change should be introduced in a clear and concrete manner.
    2. Constant reassurance should be provided. A child or young person with autism may not have the ability to generalise learnt skills from one environment to another.
    3. It is important to prepare the child or young person with autism.   For example: Give the child or young person with autism warning of a change – tell them using a clear, concrete and constant manner as mentioned above
      • what will be happening next, and
      • what they will be expecting to do when starting or finishing an activity or task.
    4. Providing the child or young person with a Choice Board, which is tailored to the options available to them, is an example of building their capacity to independently make choices.
  4. Setting realistic goals: it is important for the child or young person with autism that tasks are broken down into manageable steps with realistic goals. Be aware that individuals’ behaviour usually has a purpose, so assess and review the motivation, incentive, or reward that is available to them. Teach the individual an appropriate way to ask for help.
    • 3 Options of Help Cards
      Praise successful outcomes. Be mindful of individuals’ stress indicators. Teach the child or young person ways to express or show their feelings, so you can prompt appropriate action before an outburst, meltdown or episode of withdrawal occurs.
  5. Positive Support: Children and young people with autism can experience low self‐esteem, so, it is vitally important that they feel supported. For example, using a reward system for good behaviour (i.e. stars on a chart for a younger child or engaging in a desired activity for an older child or young person), is much more effective than highlighting e.g. challenging behaviour or incomplete task (i.e. by inserting crosses on a chart or by punishing a child by withdrawing their desired activity because they do not complete all the set task). It may be advisable to modify the language used to suit a specific situation.
    For example, in the case of incomplete homework, considering saying, “I like how you worked really hard on completing tasks 1 to 4” rather than stating “you did not complete task 5”.   For an older child, homework could be noted in a diary, or reminders set on a smart phone.  Alternatively, they could be prompted using a visual timetable, which they can examine to determine when homework is due.Staff should also be trained and encouraged to be mindful of their responses or praise.  When working with children and young people with autism, it is advisable to praise the action rather than the person, “Great work on spellings” rather than “You are a great girl.” Consider if the child or young person also requires sensory stimulation to help with attention or focus.
    Reinforcing all positive attempts is key to providing support to the child or young person.  This will help to empower them and building capacity in terms of helping them to person build resilience skills e.g. asking for help, increasing their self-esteem
  6. Mutual Respect: Children and young people with autism need to trust the people who are helping them interpret their environment. Showing and having mutual respect for the child or young person, their family and the professionals supporting the child or young person helps to instil confidence in your ability can help them feel more supported and comfortable in the environment.

Chart showing a child's stakeholders

Tips to Remember

  • Provide a predictable environment and routine – for e.g. using a daily visual schedule.
  • Prepare the child or young person for changes in advance
  • Where possible, introduce changes gradually and with visual information
    • Use visuals to aid comprehension
    • Make instructions brief and concrete
    • Use everyday situations to teach appropriate behaviour
    • Encourage and praise appropriate behaviour, pairing this praise with an immediate reward if necessary
    • Use obsessions/preferred activities as rewards if more acceptable rewards fail to motivate
  • As difficult as it may be, remaining consistent, persistent and calm is important.
  • Allow the child or young person with autism some “me time” upon returning home from school or other socially and sensory demanding activities. This me time could include engaging in a favourite activity or watching television or staying inside their bedroom.
  • Consistency is important to the overall implementation of strategies. Working in partnership with school, home and wider community ensures that everyone involved in supporting the child or young person with autism, parents, siblings, grandparents, child minders, teachers, is aware of any new rules, strategies and consequences for your child, so that your child is well supported and will not become too confused.

Point to Remember:

Sometimes when a new strategy is introduced, the child or young person’s behaviour may appear challenging. This may be because the child or young person resists or is uncomfortable with change in general, or because he or she simply wants something on his or her terms.

It may be important to reconsider if communication is delivered in a clear, concrete and constant manner, assess the child or young person strengths and needs,

  • Do you need to use visual supports to help the child or young person understand the change?
  • Do you need to give them the choice, whereby they feel empowered that they have control over what activity for example they would like to engage in. For an example of a choice board click here.