Support for skills and activities for people with autism
Social interaction is difficult for people with autism. The National Autistic Society reports that the main services requested by autistic adults in its ‘I exist’ study  were social skills training, social groups and befriending. For many people with autism, therefore, training in social skills, and 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 part of the transition from school  or in the workplace; in isolation it can be less effective.
Our research showed people were fairly consistent in wanting support in order to engage with social activities, but more varied in exactly how they socialised currently, and what else they wanted by way of social activities.
People with autism most commonly socialised with family members and friends, but we found that the next most common arena for socialising was online. As a medium in which people can exert more control over the timing, pace and flow of both giving and receiving information, as well as a space to find people with similar interests, interacting online may have real benefits for many people with autism. A common misconception is that autistic people do not seek friendships. Studies have shown that this is not the case and that many people would welcome support in this area.[13, 82]
Difficulties with public transport and low incomes can make socialising problematic.[33, 82] Other barriers included a lack of suitable activities, not feeling accepted and being worried about other people’s perceptions. For some, this can lead to a preference for autism-specific social spaces, perhaps structured around certain themes or interests.[45, 62] Others, however, express disquiet about groups targeted at people with autism, and stress the value of ordinary activities, asserting their right to be accepted within them. Still others found buddy schemes very helpful. Here, an identified person or ‘buddy’ supports them as they negotiate new situations. Some people with autism have benefited from mentoring and life coaching.
In all support for social activity scenarios, however, it is worth noting the following.
- 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 support staff.
- People need to have a choice in who supports them so that they feel comfortable socialising with them, and need to be able to state their preferences over common interests.
- Schemes need to have confident, consistent staff with 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 able to anticipate difficulties and may be anxious to start with.