Autism 101: Support Strategies {Part 4}

Welcome to Part 4 of the Autism 101 series. Today we are diving deeper into specific support techniques for working with people with ASD. If you want an overview of different interventions used with people with ASD, check out Part 3. For more information on what autism is, and how to identify it, check out Part 1 and Part 2 respectively.

Today we will be talking about different support strategies for those with an ASD diagnosis. Keep in mind, that we've previously discussed how each person with ASD is different, thus these supports and ideas are not a one-size-fits-all approach. You will need to take these approaches and individualize them to your students or adults you're working with.
Not Just Academics
As we learned last time, schools are mandated by federal laws (and usually state laws as well) to provide free and appropriate education for children with disabilities. In addition to focusing on academic skills, it's important to provide support around building relationships and social connections, as well as independent living skills.

Early Identification

The earlier ASD is diagnoses, the better. Parents or professional who recognize the characteristics of ASD early, can work with other specialists to determine which courses of action may help reduce the impact of autism on the child's life.

Inclusive Opportunities

It's important that families receive assistance to assure that their loved one with ASD has the support they need to be a part of "typical" activities and events common to all children. Some examples might be different social activities, Boy or Girl Scouts, family events, etc. An individual's pediatrician or PCP should have contact information for accessing government resources that fund programs that provide resources for individuals with ASD and their families.

Family Support

Families benefit from having support of their own. It can be challenging, especially at the onset of the diagnosis, to cope with the fact that their child has ASD. Support groups and resources for parents with ASD are a good place to start.

Transitioning to Adulthood

This is a topic that deserves it's own series. School systems have services for individuals with disabilities, generally in mid-teen years, called transition services. Depending on the school, the individual may be in school until they are 21 years old. Either way, a transition plan should be developed to prepare the student and family transition from school to the adult world.

This transition does not always include automatic adult services. Many times, the individual will have to be deemed eligible for adult services, even if they were eligible for child disability services. Regardless of eligibility, the school should be preparing the student for the change of supports, as they can (and do) change drastically.

The transition plan should include support to assist the person to consider employment options, if appropriate, and living arrangements, if necessary. This plan should target support for specific skill development needed for success in adult life. School systems vary greatly on the quality of their transition services. Parents can help advocate for their child by requesting transition plans and changes to be added to include assistance for the individual and family.

Supports for Adults with ASD

States vary greatly on the services they have available for adults with disabilities. Additionally, eligibility criteria vary from state to state. Sometimes there is a long wait list to access these services, even if found eligible.

Services may include: residential supports, employment supports, day programming, recreation and social activities, and medical or psychological supports.

With the right supports and team in place, people with ASD can be a part of the everyday life of the community, have typical jobs that match their individual skills and support needs, develop and maintain relationships that sustain and support them, and have their own goals and aspirations.

For more information on supports for adults with disabilities, check out my post SpEd After Graduation: Supports in Adult Services

Now It's Your Turn

How can you support the individuals you work with? The first step is to observe them. If possible, have an FBA conducted by a BCBA. Get to know them. Observe their social interactions with others, their communication of their needs, their independent skills, etc. Based on your observations of these individuals, you should have learned the following:
  • Their gifts (what are they good at, what are there interests, what contributions do they make to their environment)
  • Their challenges
  • The treatments that have been attempted (based on a record review or other sources)
  • The supports the person receives
  • Your ideas for helping this person with ASD build more independence and functional skills

Your next step may be to find out the types of services and supports that are available in your area for children and adults with ASD.

Continue to work with a multidisciplinary team to develop the most comprehensive supports necessary to support the individual you work with. Remember, not everyone needs the same support strategies, so be careful not to employ the same strategies over and over for everyone, hoping they will click.

Things to Keep in Mind

  • It's common for staff to feel overwhelmed or frustrated when working with people with complex behaviors. Feeling ineffective is not fun and it can be hard to feel like you are making a meaningful impact when you don't understand how best to work with the individual. This is why it's important to reach out for support!
  • Understanding individual differences in thinking, movement, and social-emotional development makes a huge difference in your work supporting people with ASD.
  • You and your team need to find a balance for the supports you are providing the individual. You want to make the environment tolerable for the person, but you also need to assist the person to live in the real world. Providing too much support can inhibit their ability to function in the world without those supports in the future.
  • Speak to all individuals as you want to be spoken to. It's important to be firm (or holding the individual to the expectation), yet compassionate and empathetic. Do not operate under the assumption that you know best for the person, therefore they need to listen to you.
  • Monitor your energy level - you can offset the level of another person by staying calm if they are upset. Alternatively, by being energetic, you can help motivate someone who has low energy. Your own emotional tone can be a tool in co-regulating another person. Sometimes, matching your energy level to the person's can also be helpful, such as being empathetic with someone who is upset. It's important that you know your individuals for this one!
  • Think Alouds or modeling is a useful tool for people working with folks with ASD. Someone with ASD may learn a rule, but not understand why the rule is important, for example. If we ourselves are thinking aloud to explain the rationale for why a rule is in place, it can be that much more attainable for the person we are working with.
  • Using the persons interests and strengths is crucial to providing supports. If you build on the connections you make with individuals, and utilize their strengths and interests, not only will you be more successful in your interventions with them, but you will like become reinforcing yourself! A basic principle is to build on something a person cares about.
  • Meet them where they are at is a phrase that I keep coming back to in my practice. Sure, we want them to have good table manners, but it makes more sense to help them learn to brush their teeth independently. There will be time to reach loftier goals, but we need to meet the individuals where they are at at the moment. 

I hope this post has been helpful! Make sure to check out the entire Autism 101 series and share with others you think would benefit from this information!

ABA at Play: scientific research, autism symptoms, function-based interventions, verbal behavior, evidence-based practices, functional behavior assessment, prompts, ABA teaching strategies, behavioral momentum, staff behavior change, social validity, socially significant behavior

How do you support people with autism? What support strategies do you find works with some of your students/individuals? Leave a comment below!


  1. Really glad I stumbled across this series! I'm working for a not-for-profit organization this summer for my co-op, and this organization aims to make a real difference for Canadians living with autism and their families. I'm doing their social media for them, but I've only known a couple people with autism so I'm doing some research before I start work. Thanks for sharing all of this information!

    1. It brings me so much joy that this series has been helpful for you! I love hearing about the different organizations making a difference for people with disabilities. Good luck in your endeavors!


Thanks for the comments! I look forward to reading them :)

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