Autism Dos and Donts

Response Officer – DO’s

  • Do
  • Don't
  • Aim to keep the situation calm.
  • Be aware that your behaviour or language may be confusing to an autistic person, in the same way that some autistic behaviour may be unexpected to you.
  • Turn off sirens or flashing lights, if possible.
  • Check the person for injuries, being as non-invasive as possible. Autistic people may not tell you about an injury or may even be unaware of it themselves, due to sensory differences.
  • Clearly explain the situation and what you will be asking questions about. If you are taking the person somewhere else, explain clearly where you are taking them and why.
  • Use visual supports/aids, such as drawings or photos, to explain what is happening. If they can read, it may be useful to put the information in writing. Autistic people often understand visual information better than spoken words.
  • Keep language clear, concise and simple: use short sentences and direct step-by-step instructions, and always follow through with what you have said.
  • Allow extra time for the person to respond.
  • Use their name at the start of each sentence if you know it so that they know you are addressing them. Give clear, slow and direct instructions; for example, “Jack, please get out of the car.”
  • Ensure that questions are direct, clear and focused on one thing at a time to avoid confusion. An autistic person may respond to your question without understanding the implication of what they are saying, or they may agree with you simply because they think this is what they are supposed to do.
  • Where possible, seek information and assistance from a parent or others at the scene about how to communicate with and de-escalate the person’s behaviour.
  • Attempt to stop the person from flapping, rocking, or making other repetitive movements – this can be a self-calming strategy.
  • Remove an object that the person may be carrying for comfort, such as a rubber band or paper. Doing so may raise anxiety and cause distress, so this is not recommended unless essential.
  • Touch the person or use handcuffs if the situation is not dangerous or life-threatening, as they may respond with extreme agitation due to their heightened and acute sensitivity.
  • Be alarmed if they seem too close to you. Autistic people may not understand the notion of personal space. They may invade your personal space, or may themselves need more personal space.
  • Raise your voice.
  • Use sarcasm, figures of speech or irony. Autistic people may take things literally, causing huge misunderstandings. Examples that would cause confusion to someone who interprets language literally are “You’re pulling my leg”, “Have you changed your mind?” and “It caught my eye”.
  • Expect an immediate response to questions or instructions, as the person may need time to process what you’ve said. Give the person plenty of time to respond.
  • Misinterpret no response as a failure to cooperate. Increasing the amount of force in a demand could potentially escalate the situation.
  • *Misconstrue the person avoiding eye contact as rudeness or a cause for suspicion.
  • *Assume that if they repeat what you say, they are being rude or insolent. A response like that could be echolalia (repetition of the
    question or phrase), so check that they have fully understood the question.
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