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12 Strategies to help young people with autism design with you

As the CEO of Dream Networks and a co-design consultant, it's extremely important to me, that within our design workshops, we cultivate a safe and engaging environment for all. We recognise that each child has their own unique interests, preferences, fears, and needs. 

Below are 12 Strategies we have included in our designing inclusively with young people guide, which will be released next week. They are tailored to support children with autism to design with you.

Please read them and let empathy guide you into supporting them to design and thrive 🙂. Autistic children, like all children, benefit from knowing they are doing well, please remember to acknowledge their success and contributions. 

Here are 12 strategies to help you create workshops that are engaging and beneficial for autistic children and all children :

  1. Sensory Considerations: Many autistic individuals have sensory sensitivities. They are wide-ranging, one child may be hypersensititive to sound or touch whereas another might be hypo-sensitive (under-responsive). It's important to take time out to understand the individual sensory needs of the children you are working with.  One way to do this is by discussing the children's needs with their support staff or parental guardians. You could also start to grasp how the children interact with their environments before the workshop by asking to support or sit on, in a class or activity they are part of.

  2. Providing a variety of sensory experiences can help you to understand the needs of the children you are working with and work towards creating an environment where they feel comfortable and able to engage. Use tactile materials, provide a pen and paper, give them the option of speaking about their ideas,

  3. Create a sensory-friendly environment that works to minimise the likelihood of children who have hypersensitivity needs of being overly stimulated.  For example, minimise bright lights, loud noises, and strong smells. Similarly provide sensory engagement that considers the needs of children who may be hyposensitivity.  For example, you can provide sensory tools like fidget toys or weighted blankets that can help regulate sensory input.

  4. Structured and Predictable Schedule: Autistic individuals often benefit from clear, structured schedules. Outline the workshop activities in advance and use visual schedules or timers to help participants understand what to expect.

  5. Clear Communication: Use clear and concise language. Take time to explain activities and communicate in a manner that is comprehensible.  Avoid idioms or ambiguous phrases that can confuse people. Remember communication is 2 ways so create spaces for the children to communicate with you too, and listen.

  6. Provide support: Use pictures or written instructions to supplement verbal communication. Similarly, use written instructions to support pictures or vernal communication.

  7. Provide Choice: Offer choices within the workshop activities to give participants a sense of control and to cater for different ways of engaging. This could include choices of activities, materials, or how to participate (e.g, individually or in a group).

  8. Break Tasks into Manageable Steps: Break down complex tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. Provide guidance and support as needed to help participants complete each step successfully.

  9. Incorporate Special Interests: Many autistic individuals have strong interests in specific topics. Incorporate these interests into the workshop activities to increase engagement and motivation.

  10. Encourage Social Interaction: Provide opportunities for social interaction, but also respect the individual's need for space and alone time. Use structured activities that facilitate social skills practice, such as role-playing or group problem-solving tasks.

  11. Focus on Strengths: Identify and build on the strengths of each participant. Design activities that allow them to showcase their talents and skills. Provide time to for people to engross themselves in what they find interesting 

  12. Provide Supportive Feedback: Offer positive and constructive feedback that is specific, comprehensible and meaningful.

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