What Are The Needs of a Person With Autism

Discover what the needs of a person with autism are and get insights into supportive strategies and services.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
April 25, 2024
9 min read
min read

Understanding Autism Needs

Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that affects individuals in varying ways. Recognizing the challenges and needs of individuals with autism is crucial to ensure they are given opportunities to thrive and actively participate within their communities. Among these needs, difficulties in communication and social interaction are common and require understanding and support.

Challenges of Communication

One of the most significant hurdles faced by individuals with autism is communication. Many autistic individuals may experience delays in language development, and some may not use speech at all. This doesn't mean they are unable to communicate; instead, they may use alternate methods such as gestures, pictures, or even echolalia, the repetition of others' words, to convey their thoughts and needs.

Echolalia may seem like mindless repetition, but it serves as a valuable communication tool for some autistic individuals. They may repeat words and phrases when they are uncertain about how to respond or don't understand a question posed to them. Providing visual support, offering choices, and encouraging them to ask for help can make communication more effective [1].

There are different stages of communication that an autistic person may reach, depending on their ability to interact, their communication methods, and their understanding. These stages include the own agenda stage, the requester stage, the early communicator stage, and the partner stage. Understanding these stages can facilitate better communication strategies to meet the needs of individuals with autism.

Social Interaction Difficulties

Alongside challenges in communication, individuals with autism often find social interaction difficult. This can manifest as difficulty in initiating interactions, responding to others, and understanding and relating to other people. These challenges can significantly affect their participation in family, school, work, and social life.

Familiar environments with predictable routines can substantially reduce anxiety levels for individuals with autism, who often find change stressful due to their characteristic communication difficulties, information processing issues, and sensory aspects.

Understanding and accommodating these needs can significantly improve the quality of life for individuals with autism. The need is to create an inclusive society that understands and respects the unique abilities, strengths, and challenges of individuals with autism, and provides the necessary support for them to lead fulfilling, independent lives.

Sensory Sensitivities in Autism

Sensory sensitivities, common in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), significantly impact the daily lives of those affected. These impacts span various areas, from development and psychological health to social interactions and everyday management.

Impact on Daily Life

Sensory sensitivities can affect every aspect of an individual's life, including their developmental trajectories and expectations for independence. These impacts can be both limiting and facilitating for skill development [4].

Aspect Impact
Profession Modality-specific and situation-dependent
Physical Safety and Health Affected by sensory sensitivities
Hygiene Can be compromised due to aversive stimuli
Living Environment Needs to be adapted to sensory needs
Self-Advocacy Impacted by the ability to navigate social expectations
Task Interference Sensory sensitivities can limit opportunities

Furthermore, these sensitivities can affect social situations, impeding community acceptance and the formation of connections. Parents have reported their children's struggles with social expectations and the potential stigmatization associated with sensory behaviors.

Strategies for Managing Sensory Sensitivities

Managing sensory sensitivities in ASD requires various strategies. Parents often employ coping mechanisms to help their children tolerate and overcome aversive stimuli. It is also crucial for these individuals to anticipate and prepare for sensory situations to enhance their independence.

Some potential strategies include:

  • Creating a sensory-friendly environment: This can be done by minimizing exposure to aversive stimuli and including sensory-soothing items like weighted blankets or fidget toys.
  • Practicing desensitization techniques: Gradual exposure to uncomfortable stimuli can help reduce sensitivity over time.
  • Using assistive devices: Noise-canceling headphones or sunglasses can help manage sound and light sensitivities.
  • Implementing a routine: Predictability can help individuals with ASD prepare for and manage sensory experiences.
  • Seeking professional help: Occupational therapists can provide individualized strategies and interventions for managing sensory sensitivities.

Understanding and addressing sensory sensitivities in autism is crucial in ensuring individuals with ASD can navigate their daily lives with more comfort and success.

Transition Planning for Autistic Individuals

As part of understanding the needs of a person with autism, transition planning becomes paramount. This involves preparing individuals on the autism spectrum for upcoming changes, thereby building resilience and independence. Effective planning mitigates stress and behavioral issues that might arise due to changes, whether anticipated or unexpected.

Building Resilience

One pivotal aspect of transition planning is building resilience. This is significant because individuals with autism spectrum disorder undergo vertical transitions, such as progressions between different life phases (e.g., primary school to high school). Good practice guidelines aid in reinforcing resilience, thereby preparing individuals for major life transitions.

Resilience is also influenced by sensory sensitivities. As noted by parents, these sensitivities impact their children's transition to adulthood by defining their expectations for independence and developmental trajectories. Sensory sensitivities can both limit and facilitate skill development.

Preparing for Life Changes

In addition to resilience, preparing for life changes is another crucial aspect of transition planning. Sensory sensitivities affect various aspects of the transition to adulthood, including profession, physical safety and health, hygiene, living environment, self-advocacy, and the interference of tasks or opportunities. These impacts are modality-specific and situation-dependent.

Sensory sensitivities also affect social situations, including community acceptance and the formation of connections. Parents have highlighted the need for their children to navigate social expectations and the potential stigmatization associated with sensory behaviors.

In conclusion, transition planning for individuals with autism spectrum disorder not only involves preparing for life changes but also entails building resilience. By understanding these aspects, we can better meet the unspoken needs of individuals with autism.

Support Services for Autistic Individuals

To meet the diverse needs of individuals with autism, a variety of support services are available. These services often include behavioral approaches and developmental therapies that aim to improve the individual's quality of life and help them reach their potential.

Behavioral Approaches

Behavioral approaches are designed to encourage desired behaviors and discourage undesired ones to improve various skills in people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). One such approach is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). This method tracks and measures progress using techniques like Discrete Trial Training (DTT) and Pivotal Response Training (PRT).

Another common behavioral approach used for individuals with ASD is the TEACCH approach. Implemented in a classroom setting, this approach is based on consistency and visual learning. It aims to improve academic outcomes by adjusting the classroom structure and routines to provide clear visual instructions and boundaries.

Behavioral Approach Description
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Focuses on encouraging desired behaviors and discouraging undesired ones. Progress is tracked using techniques like Discrete Trial Training (DTT) and Pivotal Response Training (PRT).
TEACCH Approach Implemented in classrooms, it uses consistency and visual learning to improve academic outcomes.

Developmental Therapies

Developmental therapies aim to improve specific developmental skills, such as language skills, or broader developmental abilities in individuals with ASD. Speech and Language Therapy is one such therapy that helps improve speech and language understanding and use.

Occupational Therapy is another common developmental therapy that teaches individuals with ASD skills such as dressing, eating, bathing, and relating to people. The goal is to help them live as independently as possible. The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is a developmental approach that uses play and social exchanges to improve language, social, and learning skills in young children with ASD [5].

Developmental Therapy Description
Speech and Language Therapy Helps improve speech and language understanding and use.
Occupational Therapy Teaches skills such as dressing, eating, bathing, and relating to people.
Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) Uses play and social exchanges to improve language, social, and learning skills in young children with ASD.

Providing the right support services for individuals with autism is crucial for their development and well-being. These therapies and approaches, along with others like play-based therapy, physical therapy, and nutritional therapy (HelpGuide), offer a comprehensive approach to meeting the needs of a person with autism.

Inclusive Practices for Autistic Individuals

Inclusion is crucial for individuals with autism, as it ensures they have access to the same opportunities as their neurotypical peers. It allows them to develop skills, pursue interests, and contribute meaningfully to society. Inclusive practices in society, particularly in education and employment, are instrumental in achieving this. Additionally, fostering community support and acceptance is pivotal in creating a more inclusive environment for individuals with autism.

Education and Employment

Inclusive practices in education and employment are central to the needs of a person with autism. Autistic individuals have a range of abilities, strengths, and skills to offer, but they may also face challenges with communication, social interaction, and sensory processing, which can make navigating in society difficult [3].

For instance, sensory sensitivities such as oversensitivity or undersensitivity to sensory information such as sounds, lights, textures, and temperatures can affect autistic children and teenagers and impact their experiences at school. Inclusive education practices that accommodate these needs can greatly enhance their learning experience.

Similarly, employment practices that are inclusive and understanding of the abilities and differences of employees with autism can be highly beneficial. This includes providing necessary accommodations and adapting the work environment to suit their needs.

Community Support and Acceptance

Support and acceptance from the community play a significant role in promoting inclusivity for individuals with autism. Raising awareness about autism, advocating for policy changes, and supporting research and innovation to enhance the lives of autistic individuals are pivotal steps towards creating a more inclusive society.

Bullying is a significant issue faced by individuals with autism. Strategies to address bullying, such as community education and anti-bullying campaigns, are crucial in supporting these individuals.

Moreover, community support can extend to offering resources and services to families of autistic individuals. This includes providing access to health professionals such as occupational therapists, dietitians, speech pathologists, optometrists, and audiologists who can help manage sensory sensitivities.

By adopting inclusive practices in education, employment, and community interactions, society can contribute to fulfilling the needs of individuals with autism. It is a collective effort that requires understanding, empathy, and active engagement from all members of the community.

Communication Strategies for Autistic Individuals

Addressing the needs of a person with autism involves understanding their unique communication challenges and implementing strategies that can help them express themselves effectively. This section delves into language development and augmentative communication support for autistic individuals.

Language Development

Most individuals with autism experience difficulty interacting with others, initiating interactions, responding to others, understanding and relating to others, and participating in everyday family, school, work, and social life.

Some autistic children are delayed in their use of language, and some autistic adults don't use speech. In these cases, other methods of communication need to be established. Autistic individuals may use gestures, crying, taking your hand to the object they want, looking at the object they want, reaching, using pictures, distressed behavior, and echolalia (the repetition of other people's words) to communicate.

Echolalia, or the repetition of other people's words, can seem like a person repeating words they don't understand, rather than trying to communicate. Autistic individuals might repeat what you say because they don't understand the question or how best to respond. It's important to support them by using visual support or offering choices. Encourage them that it's okay not to know the answer sometimes and promote asking for help.

The stage of communication that an autistic person has reached depends on their ability to interact with another person, how and why they communicate, and their understanding. There are four different stages of communication:

  1. Own Agenda Stage: The individual communicates for their own needs.
  2. Requester Stage: The individual communicates to express their requests.
  3. Early Communicator Stage: The individual starts to understand and respond to simple communication.
  4. Partner Stage: The individual engages in back-and-forth communication.

These stages provide a framework for understanding where an autistic individual might be in their communication development and how best to support them.

Augmentative Communication Support

For individuals with autism who have no spoken language, Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) supports can be valuable tools. AAC devices can help autistic people to communicate their needs and emotions more effectively.

Examples of AAC devices include:

  • Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
  • Sign language
  • Communication boards and books
  • Communication cue cards
  • Conversation books
  • Voice output communication aids

These tools offer different ways for autistic individuals to express themselves, reducing frustration and enhancing their ability to interact with others. The choice of device or method depends on the individual's specific needs, abilities, and preferences.

It's crucial to remember that each autistic individual is unique, with their own strengths and challenges. What works for one person might not work for another. Therefore, communication strategies should be personalized to meet the specific needs of each individual. With the right support, autistic individuals can develop effective communication skills, enhancing their quality of life and ability to participate in their communities.








steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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