Practical tips for leaders
Practical tips for leaders
Principles and strategies for supporting young autistic people are below, and many can be useful for the Section as a whole. The principles outlined here can also be relevant to consider when supporting with and working alongside autistic adults in scouting.
- You don't have to be an expert to support an autistic person but you do need to be willing to see things from a different perspective and to care.
- There are a range of simple adjustments which can have a significant impact to help everyone access Scouting and develop their full potential.
- Remember that everyone is different; neurodiverse people bring many positive skills and attributes to a Scout Group.
- Praise or reward appropriate behaviour; specific praise is best, so tell the person exactly what it is that they have done well (e.g. "Thomas, well done for waiting for you turn")
- Take a positive approach to reducing any challenging behaviours - do some detective work using your knowledge of autism, to figure out what may have caused the behaviour and how you can prevent this next time
- Be patient
- When supporting young people, it's important to develop a good relationship with them and their parents or carers – family members will be a valuable source of information about the young person's needs and any strategies that work well at school or home
- Make sure you know whether the autistic person knows about their diagnosis, and whether they’re happy to talk about it. It’s also important to check how they feel about other people in the group knowing about their diagnosis: they may not want anyone else to know, or they may want to tell others about it. This all depends on the individual, and their wishes must be respected
- Use the parent/carer framework as a tool to support you with your conversation.
- Ensure you have the autistic person's attention before you speak – it may be useful to use their name first (this is a useful tip for communicating with anyone!). Remember the autistic person might not look at you. This doesn’t mean they are not listening - eye contact can be painful for some young people and should not be forced
- Reduce the amount of words you use and if needed, use key words only
- Break instructions into smaller step by step stages. Consider using pictures/symbols/writing on a white board to support understanding and memory
- Try to avoid metaphors and colloquialisms (for example, it’s raining cats and dogs) as these can be confusing and make people worry
- Check for understanding – e.g. "so, what do you need to do first?"
- Be clear and literal - say what you actually mean and avoid sarcasm or sayings
- Don't shout - the Autistic person may not understand why you are shouting and could find this distressing, particularly if they are hypersensitive to noise.
- Remember that autistic young people might need more support to make friends. Consider gently helping them to start a conversation or activity with other members of the group. You might be able to find a kind and reliable young person to be their ‘buddy’
- Remember that an autistic person may not realise if what they’re doing appears to be rude or inappropriate. They need understanding from supportive adults.
For more information about supporting autistic people and social interaction visit the autism website.
- Give time for the autistic person to process information- use the National Autistic Society's '6 second rule'- count to 6 in your head before repeating an instruction. If you do need to repeat an instruction don’t rephrase; keep it simple and repeat the same instruction again
- This is a useful tool for anyone who has difficulties understanding or who needs extra processing time
- Be patient
For more information about supporting autistic young people and communication visit the autism website.
- Many autistic people often understand and learn best visually; be creative and use pictures, symbols, actions, written lists or practical demonstrations
- a timetable or calendar can help to prepare for upcoming changes (e.g. trips or special events) or to understand what is happening when routine is different (e.g. on camps)
- Find more information on our visual supports page.
- Consider the décor, lighting and sound in your meeting place. Are there features that might be distracting, or make the space uncomfortable for individuals with sensory differences?
- Have a calm and quiet space for young people to go to if they become anxious or frustrated
- It may be worth keeping this area cool in temperature, as if someone is frustrated or angry; they are more likely to be warm. This could be a separate room if one is available and safe or could be a corridor, outside or cornered off area in the hall
- If the autistic person has trouble communicating that they need a break, you could allow them to take themselves to their safe area or introduce a 'time out card' which can be handed to the Leader to request a break.
- Your sessions may already have some sort of routine. Try to make sure you stick to the same format as far as possible, and give the autistic person a visual plan of your usual routine
- Help new young people learn the structures and routines that are already part of meetings or events – e.g. it may help to have things like the Promise written down
- Let the autistic person know in advance what you’ll be doing in each session
- Give them as much notice as possible if there’s a change to routine or changes between activities – e.g. giving a 5-minute warning or using a timer
- Explain what is happening first and next- consider seeking additional adult volunteers to provide some extra guidance and reassurance
- If you are going somewhere new (for example, on a trip) help the autistic person to prepare in advance. For young people, work with parents and carers (and the young person themselves, if appropriate) to decide how to do this. For example, would looking at photos of where you’re going help? Would it be best to visit with a parent or carer before the trip? Do they need extra support for this trip to help them manage the change?
- If you’re planning an overnight camping trip, it’s especially important to work with parents and carers (and the young person themselves, if appropriate) to decide how to best support the young person. It might help to give them clear information about the timetable for the trip and the routine for each day. Check what food the young person would be most comfortable with, as many autistic people like to eat the same food each day. Check if they have any particular bedtime routines that they’ll need to follow, and find out if there are any familiar objects they’d like to bring from home to help them feel more comfortable.
- Help and remind an autistic young person what is expected of them and the rules they need to follow; having these presented visually can help
- Keep the rules short and explicit. It would be sensible to discuss clearly when a rule can be broken, for example if there is a rule to not leave the hall under any circumstances during scouts, be clear than in the event of a fire they are allowed to leave the hall as an emergency
- Be specific about any tasks you ask an autistic person to complete and realistic about how much they can complete in the time available. It can be very difficult for some autistic people to move on if they do not feel they have managed to finish a task.
- Discuss with the parent or carer how to best introduce a new young person to your Section. Would it be helpful for them to visit a meeting, before they start attending? Would some written information or even some photographs be useful, so they know what to expect?
- Work with the parent or carer to make activities in your programme accessible to all members. This may involve making some adaptations on your part, for example, adapting the way you give instructions, being aware of the level of noise and time when additional support will be required (e.g. activities involving teamwork)
- Don’t forget that you can adapt badge requirements as part of making reasonable adjustments to make the badge work accessible to all young people, including autistic young people
- Prepare the autistic person in advance for any changes. It may be helpful to issue a copy of the Programme in advance, to help them prepare. An upcoming trip or camp will probably be very exciting for most young people, but for an autistic young person there may be a lot more worries and anxiety about what will happen. Reassurance and further information about what to expect may be needed. Showing the person photos or pictures of where they will be going, can help to reduce this anxiety
- Find out what things make the autistic person stressed or anxious, and how they react to those things
- Know what the person needs you to do when they feel that way
- If the person is prone to running away, make sure that your meeting place is safe and include this information in their support plan
For more information about how autistic people experience stress and anxiety and how to support them visit the autism website.
Remember, a young person is not just joining your Section and so ensuring they can successfully move between the sections in your Group and onto Explorer provision is important. Remember to plan ahead for their transition into the next Section.
- Be prepared to answer questions from other Members about the autistic person's behaviours or communication style. Remember, young autistic people may be more vulnerable to teasing and bullying, and it is important that Scouting provides a supportive environment
- Consider covering autism as part of the Disability Awareness Activity Badge for Beavers or Cubs
- If the young person and parent/carer are comfortable, the National Autistic Society have a worksheet designed to introduce young people to autism, and even some lesson plans which could be adapted for Scouting.
- Consider whether extra adult volunteers could provide some additional support
- This could be particularly helpful at unstructured times, like breaks. It’s important to think creatively and use experienced assistant section leaders to support young people with additional needs, while extra adult volunteers can support elsewhere in the section
- It's also good to remember that all young people in the section should be supporting each other, and our Scout structures support this. For example, in Cubs young people are in Sixes, supported by a Sixer and Seconder and as part of the Team Leader Challenge Award Cubs help a new Cub. However, another young person should never be the designated support
- Provide extra supervision, particularly if there are issues with sensing danger. It is important to discuss with the parent or carer how much supervision the young person will need and to risk assess the young person's inclusion in Scouting, putting measures in place to reduce any risk to the young person as soon as they start in your section or group.