Autism Friendly Award 

Many of us would be lying if we said our commute was our favourite part of the day. Rarely is the airport the part of a holiday we most look forward to, and time waiting for a bus is often spent hoping that when it does arrive, it will boast an empty seat – ideally with several more around it - and an onward journey unaffected by roadworks, traffic or delays.

When it comes to public transport, interruptions, cancellations and changes to service affect us all. A lot of us will brush them off - regular inconveniences and everyday frustrations that dissolve throughout the day. But for an autistic person, unexpected changes can be a source of great anxiety. So much so that managing the unpredictable nature of public transport can become too much and deter an autistic person from travelling or in some cases, even leaving the house.

The National Autistic Society’s recent survey discovered that:

  • nine in 10 autistic people say unexpected changes, like delays on public transport, make them feel anxious
  • over half say that fear of unexpected changes has stopped them from going on a bus or train. And 75% say this leaves them feeling isolated.

It’s shocking to think that something as integral as public transport can feel at times ‘out of bounds’ to so many. That’s why, through our Too Much Information campaign and our new video Diverted, we are encouraging the public and transport organisations to find out more about autism and the small things they can do to reduce the overload for autistic people.

Making public transport autism-friendly

It’s inevitable that unexpected changes will occur from time to time, but there are plenty of ways in which transport providers can make travel easier for autistic people and their families.

  1. Provide timely and up to date information
  2. Effective planning and routine can be important for an autistic person, so when something unexpected happens it can feel like the world is spinning out of control. Wherever possible, give some clear warning to possible changes. If you can’t notify people in advance, be prepared to help explain why the changes have been necessary and to support individuals in planning alternative routes. A little understanding can be a great help when unexpected changes occur.

  3. Staff understanding
  4.  Supporting your staff to know how autism might affect someone, such as needing more time to process information, can give staff members greater confidence in communicating with and assisting autistic passengers. You could make optional lanyards available for passengers to use if they wish so they can highlight to a member of staff if they need extra support.

  5. Think about physical surroundings
  6. Public transport can be at times crowded and noisy, and for an autistic person who sees, hears and relates to the world around them differently, this can be really uncomfortable. There are things that transport providers can do that could make an immediate impact. Clear signage helps to reduce confusion and where possible, make available a quiet space at a station.

  7. Speak to autistic people
  8. It might sound obvious, but autistic people are the best source of information on what makes travel difficult for an autistic person. Invite participation through passenger groups and surveys, feedback to customers and act on their concerns.

  9. Help to spread understanding
  10. Our Too Much Information campaign is designed to help people understand autism and what you can do to help reduce the overload for autistic people. What would make public transport better for autistic people? A more understanding public.

Through our Autism Friendly Award, we’ve already worked with airports across the country to support improvements in service and build a better understanding of autism. Now we are calling upon other transport providers to follow suit. We know that there are already pockets of good practice happening across the UK and we want providers to learn from one another. With our experience and through the Autism Friendly Award we want to support this.

An experience recounted by Saskia Lupin, who is autistic and plays the lead in our new film, highlights the positive impact that an understanding individual can have:

“I have recently been served in the ticket office at my local station by a really kind man, who when he saw how anxious I was about my upcoming journey, took the time to write out a detailed plan of my route and run me through what I would need to do when I changed trains and alternative routes if something went wrong. I can’t explain how much that meant to me.”

Improved staff understanding translates into more positive stories, more people feeling able to use public transport and an opportunity to increase more widely the public’s understanding of autism.

Changes are sometimes inevitable when it comes to transport, but by taking some thoughtful action, transport providers to adapt will benefit 2.8 million autistic people and families in the UK.