Guidance for Assembly staff on involving people with autism in Committee meetings and events

Things that the Committee staff will try to do if someone with autism is coming to see their Committee

  • Find out if you would like the agenda printed on a different coloured paper or in a different font and amend the agenda to have approximate timings, (making sure it says “approximately” 10am – 10.30am and so on, to allow for things not quite running to time). A more detailed information guide on preparing documents for someone with autism can be viewed below

Preparing a document for someone with autism

Every person with autism is different, so there are no absolute rules about how to make a document autism-friendly, but the general principles listed below should act as a useful starting point.

  • Write all information in plain English – that means being as clear and brief as possible and avoiding using jargon (words that are unusual and can be hard to understand).  If you can’t avoid using jargon, explain it. This is helpful for people with and without autism alike!
  • Avoid abbreviations such as “e.g.”, “i.e”. or “etc.” and always spell out acronyms the first time you use them in a document
  • If you are using the names of services, other organisations, teams etc., explain what they do, as not everyone will have heard of them, and some people may not feel confident asking.
  • Use short sentences.  Bullet points can also help to break up information.
  • Use an uncluttered layout and at least size 12 font.  For Easy Read or Large Print information you should use at least size 18 font.
  • While everyone has individual preferences, generally the best fonts to use are sans-serif fonts such as Helvetica, Verdana or comic sans.  If you use a serif font many people with autism say they prefer Garamond.
  • Put headings in larger letters, not all in capitals.  Bold font is the best way to make things stand out, rather than underlining or italics.
  • Many people with autism find information easier to read if it is printed on a light-coloured background (cream, light yellow or green are good choices).  It can also be helpful to change the font colour to dark blue or brown.
  • Some people, particularly those with learning disabilities, may require information in Easy Read, which has pictures or photo symbols and is not the same as plain English.  However, be aware that many people with high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome may not need Easy Read information, and may not want to be given information in this format.  If in doubt, produce two versions and offer both.
  • Even if you do not produce a whole document in Easy Read with pictures or photo symbols, you may want to consider including a few pictures where appropriate to support meaning or help people know what to expect.
  • If you know someone with autism is coming to the meeting give them as much information as possible in advance, including the gallery rules. Remind the person before the start of the meeting what the rules are and make sure they understand the rules.
  • Ensure that a member of the committee staff introduces themselves to the person with autism at the start of the event so that they know who they are and can approach them if they wish.
  • Make sure people know that they can leave the room at any time if they need to take a break, and tell them where they can go, for example the seating outside the committee room, room 28, the coffee shop or quiet room at main reception.
  • Whenever possible reserve a seat for the person with autism on the end of a row and near the door so they can enter and leave the meeting easily. Remember that some people with autism will need to bring a supporter or personal assistant with them, so make sure you have a seat for them too.
  • Ensure there will be place names on the table for Members and witnesses to help someone with autism identify and remember who people are. Also Members, witnesses and speakers will often introduce themselves verbally during the meeting.
  • If possible make sure all of the speakers are aware that the event will be attended by people with autism.  Remember people with autism prefer the language used to be clear and jargon-free.  Speakers should try to speak clearly and in an even tone. Remember that people with autism may not recognize non-verbal cues such as body language and facial expression, nor the assumptions people make from these cues.  In fact, lots of hand gestures or movement while you are talking can be quite distracting and confusing for someone with autism. Remember that some people with autism may not be able to concentrate for very long.  Others may need more time to process information.  And too much information at once can be overwhelming. 
  • Try to make sure that the meeting runs to time as far as possible, as it can cause a great deal of anxiety for people with autism if things do not happen when they are meant to.
  • If the person with autism is meeting a Committee Member or the Committee staff before or after the meeting, remember that they may not communicate in a way you are used to. For example, they may avoid eye contact or they may not want to shake your hand, but this does not mean they are being rude or don’t want to speak to you. Don’t offer your hand to someone with autism, wait for them to do so first as people who are distressed by shaking hands will often still take it out of politeness. Don’t assume that because a person with autism doesn’t respond to what you have said straight away they haven’t understood.  Give them space and time to process and respond.

Supporting speakers with autism

Public speaking is a stressful experience for many people with or without autism.  So if you ask a person with autism to speak at your meeting, it’s really important to take steps to ensure that the experience of presenting is a positive one and that the person does not experience unnecessary anxiety or stress.  Emphasise that you have asked them to speak because they are the expert, and that people will not be judging or scrutinising them.

Before the meeting

In addition to the steps you would take to help a person with autism to prepare to attend your meeting or event, you will need to:

  • Make sure the speaker is clear about what you would like them to speak about and how long for.  It can be helpful to give some specific headings or bullet points rather than just a general topic.
  • Offer to proof-read or comment on their speech or presentation if they would like you to, allowing plenty of time to make changes where necessary.
  • Discuss with the speaker whether they would like attend for the whole meeting or just their own presentation.  Make it clear that there is no obligation for them to stay longer than their talk.
  • Make sure the speaker has the name of an autism champion (details on Assembly autism webpage) or the member of committee staff who will be meeting them on the day, as well as a telephone number in case of unavoidable absence or delay.

At the meeting

  • Make sure that when the speaker arrives at the venue they are introduced to an autism champion or member of staff who will be responsible for liaising with the speaker during the day.
  • Make sure the speaker knows where there is a quiet area/room that they can use to prepare or if feeling stressed.
  • Choose where the speaker would like to sit and save that seat for them.
  • Confirm the agenda for the day, times of breaks, any expected fire drills and so on.
  • Ask the speaker whether they are happy to take questions, and if so how they would like to do this. 
  • Make sure the speaker knows that it is fine to say they don’t want to answer a particular question, and agree a cue for the person chairing the event to step in if a question is asked that the speaker does not feel comfortable dealing with.
  • If you have a speaker with autism it is even more important to make sure that the event runs to time as if someone with autism is due to speak at a certain time it can cause anxiety if they are not called at that time, it may be necessary to ensure they are the first speaker of the meeting.
  • Agree cues or reminders that will be used if the speaker needs to speed up or finish their presentation.
  • Agree where the speaker is going to go after finishing (for example back to their seat, to the quiet area, out of the building).

After the meeting

  • If you have invited a person with autism to take part in a meeting or event, you may want to meet up with them to find out how they felt about taking part and whether there was anything they found difficult, or want to discuss with you. They are also welcome to send feedback through the Assembly autism webpage.
  • If you have committed to do any follow up work from the meeting, give a timescale for doing this and stick to it.  This is really important to avoid causing anxiety for people with autism.
  • If you held a consultation meeting, make sure you tell people what has happened as a result of their involvement.  If you haven’t acted on their feedback, at least explain why you haven’t done this, and what you are going to do instead to address the issues raised.

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