Improving access to social care for adults with autism
Social interaction is difficult for people with autism. For many people with autism, therefore, training in social skills, or the opportunity to engage in social situations in which they feel comfortable, can be important in preventing them from feeling isolated and unable to cope. Such training often works better in a specific context such as the workplace; in isolation it can be less effective.
Social support can come in many forms and as always what constitutes the right sort of social support will vary from person to person. Our research showed people were fairly consistent in wanting support with social activities, but more varied in exactly how they socialised currently, and what else they wanted by way of social activities (7).
People with autism most commonly socialise with family members and friends, but we found that the next most common arena for socialising was online (7). As a medium in which people can exert more control over the timing, pace and flow of both giving and receiving information, interacting online may have real benefits for many people with autism.
Difficulties with public transport and low incomes can make socialising problematic (20). Other barriers to successful social interaction for many of the people to whom we spoke included a lack of suitable activities, not feeling accepted and being worried about other people's perceptions (7). For some, this led to a desire for autism-specific social spaces, perhaps structured around certain themes or interests (30). Others, however, expressed disquiet about groups targeted at people with autism, and stressed the value of ordinary activities, and asserted their right to be accepted within them (7). Still others found buddy schemes very helpful. Here, an identified person or 'buddy' supports them as they negotiate new situations. Other people with autism had benefited from mentoring and life coaching.
The range of preferences is important to note, as it again highlights the heterogeneity of needs that people with autism have. In all social support schemes, however, it is worth noting:
- People may need to build up to social support. There often needs to be an extended period of time receiving support in the home before the person is confident to go out with the support staff.
- People need to have a choice in who supports them, and be able to state their preferences over common interests.
- Schemes need to have confident, consistent, well-trained staff. They need to have training in a range of issues, such as additional mental health problems.
- Poor social support can lead to increased feelings of rejection or replicate previous failed relationships.
- Carers' concerns need to be listened to, as they may be anxious, or be able to anticipate difficulties.