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Understanding autism
Understanding autism

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4.3 Making society autism-friendly

In the following activity you will think about challenges that autistic people may face in everyday life.

Activity 4 Challenges of autism in everyday life

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Think of the activities that many people engage in regularly in their daily lives. These might include travelling on public transport for work or leisure, shopping for food, or going to the cinema or a sports hall. List three kinds of challenges that an autistic child or adult might experience in doing these or similar activities. If you are on the spectrum yourself, or have autism in the family, this will not be difficult. If not, think about what you have learned in previous weeks.

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Sensory issues

Travelling on public transport or visiting a cinema or sports hall may induce unfamiliar or painfully loud noises. Shopping for oneself or with a parent may also involve noise as well as unpalatable smells, bright lights or confusing visual displays.

Social and communication issues

On a train or bus, or in a cinema or sports facility, an autistic child or adult may find the physical proximity to others anxiety-provoking and difficult to deal with. Instructions (e.g. for purchasing travel or cinema tickets) may be confusing. The person may be too shy to seek help from staff or other passengers when needed.

Structure, routine and decision-making

Travelling (e.g. to go on holiday) involves disruption to familiar routines. Shopping involves planning and making decisions about products, all of which may seem overwhelming to an autistic person.

Problems like these often serve to exclude autistic people from society: they may be too anxious to go out, travel or shop. Parents may find the prospect of a holiday with an autistic child daunting and end up staying at home. Even going shopping may be an ordeal for both parent and child.

Several UK organisations work to overcome such barriers to inclusion. The National Autistic Society (NAS) has established the Autism Friendly Award scheme. Those managing public spaces and amenities are invited to submit evidence of their ‘friendliness’ to autistic people in terms of five criteria, including provision of clear information accessible to autistic users of the service, well-trained staff and volunteers, and a physical environment that minimises stressors such as a confusing layout and noise.

Organisations that have received the Autism Friendly Award include several UK airports, theatres, museums and sports stadia; a handful of opticians and supermarkets; and the buildings of the Northern Ireland and Welsh Assemblies and Scottish Parliament.

A separate charity, The Autism Directory, operates its own listing of autism-friendly places, including shops, hairdressers, pubs and restaurants (The Autism Directory, 2017). An increasing number of cinema chains are providing autism-friendly screenings, for instance without advertising or trailers, lighting kept on low, reduced volume and other adjustments. Organisations such as Auticon and Specialisterne, which you read about in Week 7 [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , work specifically to place autistic people in appropriate jobs, and to ensure that their working environment is autism-friendly.