Autism-friendly practice can be defined as:
“being aware of social engagement and environmental factors affecting people on the autism spectrum, with modifications to communication methods and physical space to better suit an individual’s unique support needs.”
In short, it means being open to making changes to empower an autistic person to participate in society. It also means you are recognising the fact that the autistic person has already had to make a lot of adjustments in order to deal with the world around them, and you are open and willing to make the necessary adjustments to include autistic people.
These adjustments may be sensory. Through our Autism Friendly Community project, AsIAm saw Clonakilty become Ireland’s first Autism Friendly Town. This meant various business and organisations in Clonakilty took various measures to ensure autistic people are comfortable and supported in their environment, such as making their buildings sensory-friendly, allowing service dogs on premises and using social stories.
In the field of education this can be more thorough. Sensory-friendly buildings are being considered more, including the field of autism-friendly architecture. Our school programme involves training teachers to be conscious of autistic students and their needs, and to encourage non-autistic parents and students to be more aware in order to ensure a welcoming and inclusive environment on multiple levels.
We acknowledge that different businesses and institutions will have varying levels of funding and resources. However, we believe that sometimes even the smallest of changes can make a huge difference to the autistic community. It can be a matter of having a quiet room for students to go if they’re overwhelmed, for example, or normalising the use of stim toys in work environments. Talk to autistic friends, family, employees or students and try to highlight key access barriers. Sometimes being autism-friendly is as simple as listening.