If you are a sports instructor or leader of an organised activity group, you may have a person on the autism spectrum in your class or group. Here is short guide to help you meet their needs. The Active for Autism project supports autistic people in sport or physical activity by providing training for sports practitioners. You may also find our free Autism, sport and physical activity booklet helpful.

Communication

People on the autism spectrum communicate in different ways and many find eye contact difficult.

Every autistic person is different and unique in their own way, so take some time to get to know the individual and appreciate their needs: awareness of the person’s level of communication, style of learning, any sensory needs, triggers and behaviours."

Daniel Bird, BA (Hons) Sports Coaching and School Sport

  • try to make your communication clear, concise and direct
  • many autistic people are visual learners. Try to accompany verbal instructions with a demonstration and visual aids.

Read more about communication and interaction.

Adapting the environment

Many autistic people have sensory sensitivity which can affect one or more of the senses. Certain background sounds may be unbearably loud or distracting, causing anxiety.

  • try to reduce distractions and adopt a low arousal approach to reduce anxiety and aid concentration
  • be mindful of sensory differences and adapt sessions when required
  • try to deliver new or unfamiliar activities in an environment that the individual is used to and comfortable in.

Planning your activity session and engaging participants

Planning ahead can help people know what to expect and feel confident in participating.

  • implement a consistent structure for each session, including having structure at what are usually unstructured times. For example, in breaks during the session, ensure that you have something prepared to keep your participants engaged
  • if the participant has a special interest, try to engage with it as a means of incentive or feedback
  • recognise participants’ success and achievements, but make sure that praise is not exaggerated or ‘over the top’. Feedback should be fair and constructive – by permanently giving praise, the real meaning behind it can be lost
  • don’t assume that all autistic people dislike team games. Some people might find team games daunting, but this does not always stop them from participating

"In a supportive environment, inclusive/team sports could help autistic people become more confident and help develop their social skills...relieve stress and reduce anxiety."

Daniel Bird, BA (Hons) Sports Coaching and School Sport

  • some people on the autism spectrum tend to ‘live in the moment’. Confidence can be very negatively affected if an individual has a negative experience of sport or physical activity. Make sure they are enjoying 'the moment'.

Safety

Autistic people cannot always foresee the consequences of their actions.

  • some may have a limited sense of danger. With this in mind, ensure that you have clear physical boundaries for each session and explain safety rules in a way that the person understands
  • be vigilant in checking for injuries, as autistic people may carry on participating, unaware that they have sustained an injury.

Siblings

Consider offering 'Sibling Sessions' to involve siblings so that your participants have a familiar face to go to. However try not to depend on siblings to look after their brother or sister, as they need to be able to enjoy the activities as well.

Events this year

Our upcoming Autism and sport: one-day theory and practical combined course provides a comprehensive introduction to autism, focusing on the delivery of sport.

It will help delegates to recognise and understand the key areas of difference in autism, as well as looking at supportive strategies in practical situations in order to reduce the difficulties experienced by participants and session leaders.

Book your place now