Autism acceptance and adapting the environment

Autism acceptance and adapting the environment

Putting a stop to ticking clocks and lurid paint schemes are just two small things that could have a major positive impact on the lives of autistic people.

For a neurotypical person the sound of a clock could be an annoyance while garish colours might not even get a second look.

But for an autistic person the variation in the way their sensory processing works means these sights and sounds are overwhelming, so much so that they can lead to heightened and chronic levels of anxiety.

As Oxford Health continues to raise awareness of Autism Acceptance Month, the Trust’s Reasonable Adjustment Service (RAS) is championing change.

RAS team leader Simon Tarrant explained: “We need to move away from traditional models of viewing autism as a disability or impairment.  Autism is neurodiversity, a difference in functioning with strengths.  The challenges arise from understanding, participating and being accepted into a world set up for standard, neurotypical functioning in which conformity is valued most.”

At Oxford Health, our physical and mental health teams are being encouraged to think about the way that we can make small adjustments to improve the overall experience for autistic individuals who are in contact with our services.

The four-strong RAS – which has two registered nurses and an experienced social care practitioner – also works with colleagues at Oxfordshire County Council who are in contact with autistic people or someone they suspect to be autistic.

Simon added: “To support autistic people effectively we need to move to a simple model of adapt and accept.  Acceptance should be based on allowing the autistic person to be their autistic self.”

This can be helped by reducing background noise; using autism appropriate colour schemes of rooms and lighting; choosing appointment times around the person’s routine and energy levels and providing in advance information about the structure and purpose of the appointment; and not expecting eye contact.

Many autistic people are known for ‘camouflaging’, masking their autism to better fit in with the world around them.  This is more common in females.

“Masking, denying your true self is psychologically and physically exhausting and increases the likelihood of poor mental health and wellbeing, “ said Simon.

“With a more Autism-friendly world we will begin to fully see the strengths that our autistic population can bring to our society.

“Autism brings strengths as well as challenges. Autistic people have strengths in an ability to focus intensely on small detail; they are often very technologically adapt.

“Autistic people can bring enhanced problem solving and solution finding skills due to an ability to think outside of standard parameters. They possess an honest direct approach which is refreshing in today’s world.”

For more information about the RAS please contact Reasonableadjustmentservice@oxfordhealth.nhs.uk

Published: 27 April 2021