You can read “Accommodations – Part 1” HERE
Why accommodations should be a natural part of everyone’s life
If you have trouble seeing you use glasses. If you have trouble hearing you use a hearing aid. If you have trouble walking you use a wheelchair. These are of course just very general examples for accommodations but nonetheless: there are countless accommodations for countless needs already in place that are a natural part of everyone’s life.
Nobody would look at someone wearing glasses and ask “Do you really need those? Why are you wearing them?” We look at someone wearing glasses and we immediately know “That person has trouble seeing without glasses so they use glasses.”
But how often does it really happen that a store owner sees a customer constantly squinting and says “That person has sensory processing problems. The lights are too bright. I will dim the lights while they are in the store. And maybe we could exchange our fluorescent lightbulbs for non-fluorescent ones. That will surely help!”
Accommodating needs that are obvious, visible, and easily understandable for everyone is one thing. But what if a need is invisible or not easy to understand?
I believe that is one of the main reasons why accommodations for autism are not a natural part of everybody’s life yet. The less obvious and relatable a struggle is, the more difficult it seems to accommodate it.
If you look at it matter-of-factly the huge majority of accommodations helpful for autistic people are very easily implementable. Most of them cost no or very little money and require very little effort from other people.
Why should accommodations become a natural part of life? Because all human beings are worth equal. So they should be treated as such. To make life an equal playing field for all we cannot use the same standards for all human beings. Humans are by nature individuals. This means human needs are just as individual as human beings.
If a human being is unable, for whatever reasons, to adjust to something and that something can be adjusted to the human being’s individual need then that is what should happen.
I often hear how certain accommodations are too expensive, too time consuming, would require too much additional training, and so on and so forth. I call bullshit. And I cannot put it in any nicer words. Nor do I want to.
What is necessary first and foremost to make accommodations a reality is the willingness to do so. If you want to make something happen it will happen. It is a matter of setting priorities.
If the government says installing wheelchair ramps for every building in the country is too expensive, what they are really saying is “Spending money in other areas is more important to us.”
The money, the time, the training – it can all be made possible, if the people in a position to do so chose to make it a priority.
That being said, as long as certain accommodations are out of reach for whatever reason: find others. There is always something to be done to improve the life of an autistic person.
What can be done
If you are new to the topic it may be difficult to think of things that might help autistic people. But even if you already know a lot about accommodations, the individual nature of need and meeting need means there is always more to learn and explore.
So here are some useful accommodations for autistic people that require little to no money, time, and effort to put into place. All listed items have more information under the “More about this.” tag.
– Use ear defenders, earplugs, and headphones.
These obviously help with sound related sensitivities. But they also help with general sensitivities in the ear. They protect ears from temperature and wind for example.
Please note that today there are noise cancelling aids that only cancel out certain sound levels to accommodate exactly what the individual needs. You can find the right hearing protection for any need.
– Use sunglasses.
Sunglasses are great to protect against bright sunlight. But that is not their only use. They also help with bright indoor light as well as shiny or reflective surfaces like you find them in most malls and stores.
Sunglasses come as actual sunglasses as well as clip-ons. I for example cannot manage to constantly put on and take off actual sunglasses so I prefer clip-ons. Those do not offer as much protection but are more practical for me. I have a pair that clips onto my regular glasses and can then be tilted up or down.
– Be thoughtful about sensitivities related to clothing.
Sensory needs accommodating clothing can mean to avoid materials that cause discomfort. It can mean to cut off clothing tags. It can mean to make sure clothing has the right fit to avoid discomfort. Too tight can be bad for some while for others too wide is no good.
Accommodating clothing needs also includes allowing people with sensory problems to avoid certain dress codes.
– Be thoughtful about hypersensitivities to smell.
You can accommodate this by not wearing perfume. Choose deodorants that do not have a fragrance of their own. Do not use air fresheners and use unscented cleaning products. Just stay away from anything that has a strong odor.
It can also help an autistic person to have a pleasant smell with them. I for example put a drop of essential lavender oil on my sleeve whenever I leave the house. That way I can hold that in front of my nose and smell it whenever I encounter smells that are uncomfortable for me.
Find out which smells are a problem and avoid them. Find out which smells are pleasant and use those to help cope with difficult smells.
– Use stim toys.
This is a huge topic of its own really. To keep it short: Have helpful stim toys with you or make sure the autistic person has their favorites with them at all times.
Having a stim toy available at all times can greatly reduce stress. It can help cope with many situations that might otherwise lead to meltdowns.
– Accept Stimming.
This might be one of the biggest accommodation needs not met in today’s society. Stimming (unless harmful behavior) should be allowed and not suppressed. Do not ever punish for stimming.
No caregiver, parent, friend, family member, etc. should ever force an autistic person through an unnecessary situation without the accommodation of allowing self-care in form of stimming.
Only the autistic person themselves may choose that they want to suppress their stimming for the duration because the experience is more important to them.
When stimming is unacceptable and the situation unavoidable like at school find and offer ways to stim and cope that do not disturb others instead of flat out prohibiting (or even punishing for) stimming. Children at school have experienced great success with silent stim toys for example.
– Allow alternative ways to communicate.
This is another huge accommodation not currently in place everywhere. Everybody communicates. There are many ways non-speaking people can communicate. Gestures, sign-language, picture cards, electronic speech devices.
Every human being deserves the time it takes to work out a way to communicate that works for them. Be patient. Be creative. Be respectful. Allowing alternative communication in every field of life (school, work, test situations, social life, etc.) is a huge accommodation end goal.
– Use schedules.
Having a schedule and being able to rely on it does wonders for many autistic people. Visual schedules come in all shapes and sizes and can be completely tailored to each individuals need (written, with pictures, little or lots of detail, interactive, etc.)
– Announce and explain changes ahead of time whenever possible.
Explain what is going to change and why. Explain how long the change will last. Explain exactly what will be done instead and how you plan on getting through it. Give as much detail as you can or as much detail as the autistic person demands from you.
I strongly suggest taking the autistic person aside for this. Find a calm environment with just you two in it and as little other impressions as possible. I also find it important to not just make this an announcement but a conversation. Remember alternative communication if necessary. Ask if the autistic person needs anything to get through the experience. Allow comments, critique, expression of thought and emotion.
This should be mandatory but from personal experience I can tell you it is not. It happens often that I have plans with someone else, that someone changes their plan and does not consider how that affects me.
– Use weighted items like blankets, pillows, vests, etc.
Many autistic people with sensory problems have experienced great success with weighted items. You can make these yourself thanks to DIY tutorials online or buy them.
Weighted items help sense where their body begins and ends. Where our body is in space. They can be extremely calming and for example allow hyperactive people to settle down and be able to sit calmly.
– Provide safe spaces.
In our current world autistic people are confronted with sensory overload daily. The world is exhausting. It is extremely important to offer autistic people safe spaces throughout all their environments.
A safe space means a place to retreat to. When something becomes too much to handle an autistic person will benefit greatly from being able to leave the situation for a while.
Safe spaces can be many things. Be creative! In a classroom this can be a chair or seat cushion on the ground in a secluded corner which nobody may enter but the autistic child. When out and about this can be your car where the autistic person can retreat into with closed doors until ready.
– Use clear, precise, literal language. This goes especially for giving directions and formulating expectations.
– Break things down into manageable steps.
Make the steps as small as each individual needs them to be. This is especially important for students at school but also translates into the work environment. And it also works with pretty much anything one ever attempts to do.
– Write things down.
The more complex assignments, instructions, expectations, schedules and so on are the better it is to write them down. It is much easier to keep track and follow the steps when you have an actual list of the steps involved. Include visuals whenever possible but also make sure the layout and design are minimalistic. Stay away from too much color, over the top fonts and anything that is a visual distraction rather than a visual aid.
– Utilize notes to prepare for speech.
Speaking can be difficult for autistic people. Especially speaking with strangers and about things they do not usually speak about. It helps enormously with becoming independent when you learn to take and bring notes.
This also means to allow people to bring and read notes. If an autistic person sits in front of you and uses a note card do not judge. It simply means that person is well prepared and accommodating their own need.
– Use alternative ways to take notes.
Many autistic people have problems with their motor skills. Handwriting is difficult if not impossible for many. It is often much easier to type so using electronic devices can solve this problem in most cases. If typing is not an option either classmates, teachers, or other people can provide notes for the autistic person.
– Always have food and water available.
Many autistic people have a problem with making sure they drink and eat enough and in regular intervals. And many problems autism can bring are made worse by low blood sugar or not enough fluid intake.
– Offer alternative testing methods.
Tests can be done in many ways. Written, oral, typed on an AAC device, typed on a laptop. Whenever possible there should be alternatives for regular tests. If a student is unable to participate in a testing situation they could be tested via homework, assignment papers or essays.
– Allow for extra time.
Students with autism can benefit greatly from extra time for tests. Many autistic people have difficulty reading or writing. Since autistic people often think in images and not words, transcribing their thoughts into words takes time.
But of course extra time also goes for everything. Many autistic people are capable of doing the exact same things non-autistic people do – but it may take them longer.
– Forget eye contact.
Eye contact is not a requirement for social interaction. Holding eye contact is extremely stressful, exhausting, and often over stimulating for autistic people. Many cannot hold eye contact and a conversation at the same time.
– Do not touch unless you got permission first.
If you have to touch someone (in case of emergency for example) always announce what you are going to do, and where you are going to touch.
Explain as much as possible and definitely verbalize “I understand you do not want to be touched. I have to touch you right now to help you. I promise I will keep my touching to the lowest possible minimum.”
I am constantly looking out for people who get too close to me. Because unfortunately it is not considered unacceptable to touch other people occasionally I can never be sure when I will or will not get touched.
This is a level of stress for my system you cannot even imagine.
– Approach autistic people thoughtfully.
Do not approach from behind. Avoid sudden and loud “HEY RICK!”s. No slap on the shoulder or anything of that sort.
Unless you know the autistic person well and have determined together what is acceptable and what is not erring on the side of caution is the way to go.
– Promote order, reduce clutter.
This goes for the autistic person’s space as well as for classrooms and work spaces. The less visual stimuli the better.
– Create individualized spaces at school and work.
Find out which space in the classroom is most beneficial for an autistic student. Offer a separated office space for autistic workers.
Again, be creative. If a single office is not possible, room dividers can help minimize visual stimuli even if they do not offer a totally secluded office experience for example.
– Be thoughtful about sensory stimuli generally.
Is the light too bright? Can fluorescent lights be exchanged for non-fluorescent ones? Are there blinds on the windows to help with sun glare? Is the radio constantly on even though nobody is listening? How is the general noise level? Why not carpet instead of tiles to minimize noise from people walking around? Maybe the coffee machine could be placed in a different room, it is rather loud. Use unscented cleaning products.
Communicate with the autistic people involved! Ask for their input and listen to their requests whenever possible. Most accommodations for sensory problems are very easy to implement and free of charge.
– Utilize the countless things the electronic age has to offer.
There are countless free apps online. Organizer, assistant, alternative communication, financial planner, there is an app for everything.
Providing electronic devices to autistic people who may not be able to afford them would be a great thing to do. Also teaching autistic people how to use those devices would be a huge service.
– Allow service animals everywhere.
– Explain, teach, and practice social skills.
Please note that this also includes things like relationships, sex, and sexuality. It is extremely important to offer autistic people a safe place to ask questions and get answers free of judgement.
Someone once said to me “There are no dumb questions, only dumb answers.” And I have taken that to heart. Whatever the question might be, it matters to the person asking it so answer it properly.
– Educate others.
Explain autism. Explain accommodations. Foster acceptance, respect, and thoughtfulness. Since this is the basis on which people will be willing to offer accommodations do this whenever possible!
– Allow working from home.
– Allow autistic people to come and leave early.
And by early I mean a few minutes. An autistic child can benefit greatly from being allowed to enter and leave the classroom five minutes early so they do not have to maneuver the crowded halls. They can enter and leave while the halls are still empty thus eliminating one very stressful factor of school life.
– Do not make assumptions, ask for clarification.
I run into this all the time and it makes my social interactions extremely difficult. I say exactly what I mean but people constantly interpret my words in all kinds of ways.
If I say something that startles you, hurts you, or that you find disrespectful ask for clarification and 99 out of 100 times you will notice that you just misinterpreted my words instead of taking their literal meaning.
Can you come up with more? Please let me know in the comment section! I am always curious and excited to see all the creative ways people help themselves or others!
A great read on possible accommodations in the workplace:
#AccommodationsMean, the hashtag from the autistic twitter community, offers great insight into what actually autistic people wish for and which experiences they have made with (and without) accommodations: