Individualised Support is key

Support strategies really depend on the challenges the person is experiencing.

Everyone is different, so a strategy that works for one person may not necessarily work in the same way for another. This is why we call it ‘Individualised Support’. When considering strategies, it’s important to remember that many people with Autism are:

Visual learners

Visual information lasts longer and is more concrete than spoken and heard information.

Literal thinkers

Literal means exactly what is said—the surface meaning. People with Autism tend to respond well when expectations or instructions are explicitly stated.  Figurative is where people use language to create additional, or hidden, meanings—the deeper meaning.  People with Autism often have trouble understanding idioms and ‘reading between the lines’ or pinpointing the ‘hidden rules’ in social situations.

More at ease when they know what will happen next

Consistency and predictability can help to reduce anxiety. Routines can be powerful in supporting a feeling of wellbeing and stability as they bring a sense of order and ‘sameness’ to a seemingly chaotic, ever-changing and sensation-driven world. 


There are many, many strategies. Below are just a few of the key strategies that can help to improve the lives of people with Autism. 

  • Get the person’s attention first
  • Use simple, short sentences to make your language easier to understand
  • Speak in a normal tone of voice with slightly slower speed and plenty of pauses
  • Emphasise key words
  • Use words the person is familiar with
  • Say what you mean (State your message clearly and avoid language that implies meaning)
  • Communicate one idea at a time
  • Avoid giving instructions by asking a question (like saying “Please put this on the table” instead of “Can you put this on the table?”). If you ask a question, be prepared for the answer
  • Limit open-ended questions and offer specific choices
  • Make it visual (like showing the person what you mean by providing a demonstration; using a gesture; through symbols like objects, photos and pictures)
  • Give the person enough time to take in and act on what you’ve said (some people need up to 30 seconds to process what they hear in order to form a response)
  • Be open to different ways of communicating. (Some people use pictures or a device like a computer or tablet with specialised software, to help them get their message across if talking is difficult for them)
  • Be mindful of the cues the person is giving you (Remember! Communication is a two-way process).
  • Stay calm (Remember! Stress and frustration can affect communication)

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  • Welcome the person and make them feel that they are a valued part of the group or activity
  • Establish a connection
  • Follow the person’s lead – What do they like doing? What do they like talking about?
  • Be patient – take the time to get to know the person and given them time to get to know you
  • Give information in more than one way (use demonstrations, movements, images, written information to add to what you are saying)
  • Outline the process for participating – it’s easier to take part, when you know what the rules are!
  • Support the need for predictability – prepare the person before going to a new place, meeting new people or starting a new activity. Make use of visual supports like schedules, calendars and checklists. 
  • Support social understanding by outlining the expectations and pointing out ‘hidden’ rules. Social stories present information in a literal, ‘concrete’ way and can help the person to understand a new or previously difficult or ambiguous situation or activity
  • Be accommodating – if the person finds crowds challenging because of sensory overload or the stress of communication, a small group can provide a much better option for meaningful participation
  • Be aware that unstructured times are often the most difficult times for people with Autism. Think about how to give structure (Remember!  It’s about supporting, not controlling)
  • Be respectful.
  • Try not to stare – sometimes people with Autism might do things that seem unusual to you but help them to feel safe in the situation
  • Talk to the person, not about them
  • Reinforce what the person does well socially
  • Celebrate strengths. Recognising and harnessing a person’s strengths can help them to achieve their full potential.

  • Organise and provide structure (using labels; colour coding; designated areas for specific activities like a ‘calm down’ space; a themed day of the week like ‘Fish and Chips Friday’ or ‘Sunday Funday’ that is displayed in a consistent place; an activity or chore system where the motivator is visible and task completion is clear, like a finished tray or check box etc.)
  • Establish clear and consistent routines (using visual supports, like a daily or weekly schedule; activity schedules in the area where the task is carried out – like a ‘handwashing visual’ above the sink)
  • Support transitions and prepare for changes (refer to a schedule; use a countdown timer; a transition object)
  • Provide a safe place where the person can take a break or calm down if they need to and show them how to use it
  • Consider the person’s sensory sensitivities and preferences. Some common sensitivities include: 
  • Lighting: For someone who is sensitive to light, consider replacing fluorescent lights with incandescent lighting or adapt the environment to let more natural light in; if fluorescent lighting is unavoidable, a hat with a visor or tinted glasses can help; adjustable lighting or dimmer switches are other options. 
  • Noise: Soft furnishings (like carpets and curtains) can help to absorb sound and reduce reverberation; earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones may be helpful for some people; for others a consistent  background noise (like white noise, music, or a sound they have a positive connection with) can help to soften the impact of jarring or annoying sounds; avoiding high traffic times for certain activities (like going shopping) where there is a lot of noise can also help. 
  • Smells: Some people can become overwhelmed by smells you might not even notice or perceive them quite differently.  Consider using an unscented product verses a scented one (like fragrance free cleaning products, detergents and unperfumed toiletries); take note of smells the person does like (a preferred smell could be used to mask other smells); move offending smells away from the person (like rubbish bins, or objects that produce strong odours); increase ventilation (open a window); help the person identify coping strategies (like covering their nose with a tissue; letting someone know they don’t like the smell; having a preferred smell accessible). 

Remember, each person with Autism is unique, and so are their personal sensitivities. The examples above relate mostly to those who are ‘hypersensitive’ (where a little sensory input feels like a lot). 

Some people may however be ‘hyposensitive’ (where a lot of sensory input only feels like a little, so they may need more).   In this instance, these adaptations might be considered:

  • Sensory-stimulating toys, activities, devices or tools (like a fidget spinner or cube; a wobble cushion or balance disc; a light up keyboard; noisy toys or games; speakers with a bass booster; personal music devices like an MP3 player with earphones etc.)
  • Multi or heavy textured surfaces
  • Smells (like scented toiletries; fragrant fabric softeners; diffusers etc. The type of smell, would of course depend on the person)
  • Weighted toys or lap blankets
  • Opportunities for physical movement (spaces, activities, and items to enable catching, dancing, running, jumping etc.)
  • Arranging furniture to reduce the chances of bumping into hard or sharp surfaces

Use a Positive Behaviour Support Approach. 

  • Recognise behaviour as a form of communication – seek to understand the purpose of the behaviour (What function is it serving for the person?)
  • Provide opportunities for the person to express themselves
  • Respect the person’s personal space
  • Provide the person with choice and control
  • Develop an Individualised Support Plan collaboratively
  • Be pro-active rather than reactive
  • Support Communication (link to the relevant strategies section – see above)
  • Support Social Interaction, Participation and Inclusion (link to the relevant strategies section)
  • Adapt the environment (link to the relevant strategies section)
  • Teach skills

  • Teach understanding and acceptance – click here to view our Autism Heroes website. 
  • Get to know your student with Autism
  • Adapt the curriculum
  • Consider sensory preferences
  • Modify the environment or instruction (tasks, assignments etc.)
  • Present information visually
  • Use Total Communication
  • Establish clear expectations
  • Use motivators or reinforcers
  • Teach the hidden rules
  • Plan for break times or free times
  • Act against bullying
  • Teach social skills
  • Teach emotional regulation
  • Plan for examinations

These points are explored in detail in our Thinking Ahead: Students with Autism Moving to High School and Beyond Publication and e-book. We also have a range of useful resources available in for download in our resource library


Evidence Based Practice

We use a range of strategies that have been tried, tested and proven successful for people with Autism. These are called ‘Evidence Based Practices’ because research shows that they produce positive outcomes. Some key practices are outlined below. Click here to access the Evidence Based Practices for Children, Youth and Young Adults with Autism report, 2020.

Social StoriesTM communicate information about a specific situation, event or activity in a literal, concrete way to help the person with Autism understand the process, expectations and appropriate responses.

Social StoriesTM can help the person understand the sequence of events in a social situation. They are also effective in reducing anxiety by supporting receptive communication and making a new or previously difficult or confusing situation easier to understand and navigate. Providing information about what might happen, who may be involved and guidelines on how to act, helps to increase predictability, uncover hidden social rules and make the situation less threatening.

Although the general structure stays consistent, the content and presentation can be adapted to meet the person’s particular needs.  

Social StoriesTM fall within the Social Narratives category of Evidence Based Practices.

The terms ‘Social Story’ and ‘Social StoriesTM’ are trademarks owned by Carol Gray, the original developer. To learn more about Social Stories visit Carol Gray’s website

Click here for our Tip Sheet on Social StoriesTM

Visual supports, visual cues and visual strategies are terms used for tools that present information in a concrete and visual way using symbols, photos, written words and objects. They allow the person to see what you mean rather than relying only on what they hear. Information that is visual and constant can help the person retain and process the message more effectively.
Visual supports are excellent tools for developing and supporting daily living, self-help, academic and vocational skills. They are adaptable, portable and can be used in a variety of situations.
Some examples of commonly used visual supports are:

  • Visual Schedules (like a daily, or weekly schedule)
  • Activity Schedules (like the visual steps for making a sandwich or washing your hands)
  • Work Systems
  • Scripts
  • Visual cue cards
  • Graphic organisers 

AAC stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. It involves using multiple strategies to support communication.
A person with Autism might use AAC when their speech doesn’t meet all of their needs. For example, if they haven’t developed speech, their speech is hard to understand or they don’t have enough speech to engage in their everyday life.
AAC may be used as an alternative to speech or as an addition to ‘augment’ or enhance the person’s existing speech.

There are many benefits to using AAC for people with Autism. AAC can help people with complex communication needs to:

  • Understand information
  • Express themselves (AAC helps facilitate a wider variety of communication functions)
  • Communicate in different environments and with different people
  • Develop their language skills

AAC is described as either:

  • Unaided – when the person uses their own body to share messages (e.g. facial expressions, body language or Key Word Signs) or,
  • Aided – when the person utilises a tool or piece of equipment to communicate (e.g. a picture or device). Aided communication systems include low-technology options (like exchanging a picture or pointing to symbols) and high-technology options like Speech Generating Device (SGDs) and applications that enable other devices, like phones and tablets, to serve as SGDs.

AAC includes tools and approaches like:

  • Picture Exchange Communication (PECS)
  • Key Word Signs
  • Communication Boards
  • Communication Books
  • Speech Generating Devices


Useful Resources

Our experienced team of therapists have created a range of resources to assist Individuals with Autism, these include: 

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