Throughout our focus groups, people reported that staff in public places lacked knowledge of sensory processing differences and autism. This led to individuals facing misunderstanding, judgment and stigma from staff and members of the public. These challenges can be a barrier to receiving additional support to help autistic people cope in more difficult environments. People felt that staff would benefit from having additional training in autism so that they can be more understanding and supportive of autistic people.
As a result of these misunderstandings, people would try to camouflage their sensory challenges and coping mechanisms (such as stimming or using fidget toys) which could make these public places more difficult. Some people identified that they work hard to ‘appear normal’ even when feeling overwhelmed, not wanting to be perceived as being ‘difficult’ for their additional needs.
Increasing people’s knowledge, understanding and acceptance of autism would help to make public spaces more accessible.
Questions for businesses and organisations to think about:
- Do you and your staff currently receive training about autism and sensory processing difficulties? Is this training tailored to your location (e.g. identifying specific sensory inputs that people might find more challenging in your space)?
- Do staff feel confident in knowing what accommodations they can make to support autistic people? (e.g. seating them in different locations within a restaurant or using alternative methods of communication)?
- Do you have a way that individuals who visit your space can indicate whether they may need additional support for their sensory needs? Can staff recognize this? Is it possible for people to give this information when making a booking in advance?
- Are staff aware of national schemes such as the Sunflower Lanyard and what these represent?
For more information on the other themes identified, click on the images or their captions below…