This is world autism awareness week and is understandably a great time to learn a little about autism. Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition. It is a disability and it affects how people experience the world through their senses but also how their brains process that information and how they communicate. The thing about autism is that how it presents is vastly different dependant on the individual and the impact it has on both their life and the lives of their family can be hugely different. This is where you might have heard of the phrase ‘the spectrum’ before. The ‘spectrum’ is best thought of these days as about different support needs: so at one end of the spectrum you might need considerable support and be unable to communicate or process information and require 24 hour support compared to those that appear to require very little support in their day to day lives.
We believe about 1% of the population is autistic so that’s just over 56000 people in Scotland and we know that the life outcomes for autistic people can be really challenging. Only 20% of autistic people are in any kind of work, autistic people have a significantly higher suicide rate than the general population, a lower life expectancy and terrible health outcomes. They often report suffering from exceptional mental health challenges. This is because, too often, our society doesn’t put in place the right support for autistic people meaning that every day is a struggle. This is also the case when it comes to the law. Autistic people often find the law and legal processes incredibly intimidating and sometimes hard to follow.
Through your role as working at a law firm you have the opportunity to consider some of the things you might be able to do if you have autistic clients that might help them.
- Try to make sure that you provide as much information in written form before meeting your clients as possible. This might go as far as pictures of yourself and the room they will be in to lower anxiety levels.
- Ask if they have any sensory needs that you can make adjustments for. One of the most common is to turn off any strong or glaring overheard lights.
- Provide processing time for autistic people, feel comfortable sitting in silence for a few minutes as they consider any information.
- Don’t necessarily expect any instant, predictable or emotional reactions, everyone is different and sometimes for autistic people they feel like they are expected to respond in a certain way, how you would expect them to. Don’t put that burden on them.
- After any meetings follow up in writing what was agreed/discussed. This doesn’t have to be much but will be really helpful for the autistic person (and let’s be honest – any of us.)
- Another thing to consider is that autistics people can be very trusting which means that sometimes they can be easily manipulated by others so keep an eye out for this.
- Autistic people much prefer to be called ‘autistic people’ rather than ‘people with autism.
This world autism awareness month please take the time to consider what changes you might be able to make to be more inclusive. If you want more information about autism or fancy donating towards some of the great work the National Autistic society is doing then please visit our website at autism.org.uk
Blog by Nick Ward, Director
National Autistic Society Scotland