Being autistic is a lifelong condition that affects how a person perceives and relates to the world around them, affecting individuals in ways unique to them.

As part of acceptance month, Oxford Health is providing information and advice from our expert teams. They work closely with young people to assess and support their needs, to help them adapt to an autism diagnosis.

Laura Mackenzie is a specialist mental health nurse and deputy manager with Oxfordshire’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) Neurodevelopmental Conditions (NDC) team.

She said: “Supporting an autistic young person in a positive way is really important – understanding their anxieties and emotions, providing reassurance and validating what they might be going through, even if you don’t agree, provides comfort and shows them you are trying to understand.

“Along with developing understanding, it is important for families, schools and support networks make adaptations to the environment and their style of communication, which can help the young person feel less worried, confused or scared.

“Autism acceptance cannot just be limited to an awareness month, it is important to consider it every day. Our tips and resources can help guide you in the right direction in a world not made for autistic people.”

The team’s top tips

Don’t push to fit! When supporting someone with autism, it is essential to remember the autistic brain is different to a neurotypical brain. The world is not made for autistic people – it can be overwhelming, confusing and distressing. So, try to understand why an autistic person is anxious, refusing to do things or isolating and support them with this, rather than just pushing them to fit in to a neurotypical world.

Friendly strategies: These can be helpful for young people – such as maintaining clear and consistent boundaries to show expectations, keep instructions simple and specific, and praise and acknowledging their efforts. Further information on these friendly strategies can be found here.

Heightened anxieties: In neurotypical people anxiety effects around one in 10 at some point in their life; that figure quadruples to 40% of the autistic population with many experiencing social anxiety because they find social situations difficult. Also, many young people with autism worry excessively that certain routines might be interrupted, or that they might be prevented from doing certain activities or behaviours.  It is important to try to understand anxiety triggers. You could do this by asking ‘what am I most worried about?’, ‘what is the worst that could happen?’. Another idea is to complete a diary to look for patterns in anxious behaviour.

Oxford Health has an online course for young people with autism and anxiety here – including six session videos and workbooks. Helpful factsheets on a range of topics like anxiety, emotional regulation, self-harm and more can be found here. These are both useful resources for parents and guardians too.

Further useful advice and guidance can be found on the Oxford Health CAMHS website. If you need advice on autism or support, please speak to your GP. You can find helpful resources on Ambitious about Autism and the National Autistic Society.