Communicating with people on the high end of the autistic spectrum isn’t always easy. However, by finding the right technique, United Response staff were able to make a huge impact on John*’s life, writes service manager Emma.

When we started to support John* back in 2006, he liked his own company and preferred objects to people. When meals were served, he didn’t get involved and only approached staff for few basic requests: for a biscuit, for some yoghurt, to use the computer or to ask people to leave him alone.

Over time, John’s love of objects became obsessive. Staff would respond to his requests because they thought this would make him happy, but it didn’t. He would receive the object he wanted, become bored and throw it on the floor.

John’s insular nature and unsociable behaviour also proved difficult for his housemate. We decided it was time to take a different approach.

A person-centred approach to communicating with John

Recognising that John didn’t respond when they talked to him in long sentences, support staff tried objects of reference and fewer words to guide him through different parts of the day.

When preparing for a day out, they turned off his music, so there were no distractions, showed him the keys to indicate leaving the house and then waited by the front door. They waited patiently for up to 15 minutes, so he could process what they were suggesting – and then watched as he voluntarily walked towards the door.

The same simplified approach encouraged John to engage with everyday household tasks. Whereas, before, he would guide staff to the fridge if he wanted a yoghurt, waiting at the table for them to bring it to him, now, with prompts and coaxing, he voluntarily takes the spoon out of the drawer and takes the yoghurt to the table himself. He had never done this before – engaged with a task and with the people supporting him.

Intensive interaction techniques

By using intensive interaction techniques, such as copying his sounds and movements when he danced to his favourite music, communicating with him became easier. He responded by pulling staff to dance with him and looking them in the eyes – something he started doing much more than usual.

Soon, they began to hear him giggle and laugh more often, too. He now helps to make tea, plays ball in the garden with his housemate and spends less time on his own.

His parents are thrilled with the change in their son. He stays with them regularly, and they have told his social worker and the council how much his life has improved.

Emma, service manager.

*Name has been changed

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