5 Things Every Social Worker Should Know About Autism

As a social worker, you will almost certainly have to work on behalf of someone with special needs at some point in your career. Perhaps you’ve decided to make it your specialty. While this is certainly admirable, you won’t do those in need much good if you don’t understand their special needs in the first place. This is especially true about autism, which is still often misunderstood even in this day and age. If you are going to be of any help to your autistic clients, here are five things you need to understand.

Autistic People Exist on a Huge Spectrum

Autism is often more accurately called autism spectrum disorder, or ASD. This means that an autistic person can be very high-functioning save for a few “quirks,” or they can be very low-functioning and unable to care for themselves. Every one of your clients has their own individual needs; you cannot simply assume that all of your autistic clients will require the same treatment.

Routines are Essential

One of the defining characteristics of autistic people is that they tend to be very rigid in their behaviors. They often stick to a routine in their daily lives, and they have a lot of trouble adjusting if those routines are disturbed. This is especially true of autistic children. Try to stick to a routine as much as possible with your autistic clients. Keep your appointments at the same times as often as possible, and respect your clients’ daily schedules. If you have to go against an established routine, provide plenty of warning beforehand to give your client time to adjust.

Keep Language Simple, but Not Too Simple

One common mistake that people make when dealing with autistic people is speaking to them like children even when they are not. Most autistic people will understand you if you speak plainly, and unless your experience with a particular person tells you otherwise, you shouldn’t talk down to them. You can speak plainly to someone without talking down to them.

Autistic Children are Very Literal

Figurative language is often not understood by autistic children, so be careful about using it around them. Telling them to “pick up the pace” or “get the lead out” won’t get them to hurry; they will simply want to know how they can get lead out of something or be looking for something on the ground called “pace.” They will take everything you say literally, so even common metaphors and sayings should be avoided when possible.

Advise Parents Not to Grieve

Yes, there is a huge stigma in our society against anybody who isn’t neurotypical, or what some people would simply call “normal.” It’s not as bad as it once was, but some parents of autistic children might want to grieve for the “normal” child they could’ve had instead of their autistic child. This needs to be discouraged. Whether you work with an autistic child or an autistic adult, your job is to help them live a comfortable and fulfilling life. Parents of an autistic child should be on board with what you do not despite their child’s condition, but for the love – and respect – of their child.

While there is still much we don’t know about the autistic spectrum, we still know far more than we once did. Keep these tips in mind as you pursue your career in social work, and remember that all of your clients and their families deserve your attention and respect.

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