Person-centred planning for young people with autism

Molly Garboden reports on how person-centred planning can be adapted to benefit people with autism

The benefits of person-centred planning (PCP) have often bypassed people with autism because it was not adapted to their specific needs.

However, according to the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities (FPLD), all that was needed were a few changes to the traditional methods of implementing the programme. It recently published a guide, We Can Dream, that lays out how to adapt the programme for young people with autism making the transition from school to adulthood.

Traditionally, PCP consists of a series of steps that help people identify their goals in life and move towards achieving them. All plans are tailored specifically to the individual. A young person will be asked to think about their dreams in life. Through identifying their strengths or “gifts”, the young person is able to focus on options that work best for them.

Support circle

A group of interested people is then brought together as a support circle for the young person. This group can be made up of anybody from family and friends to social workers and church leaders. It is their responsibility to help the young person work towards their goals and use their strengths to the greatest potential.

Jill Davies, research programme manager for the FPLD, says this traditional approach to PCP can be overwhelming for many autistic young people.

“Person-centred planning can be a bit abstract for people with autism who tend to have more literal understandings,” she says. “For instance if you talk about a person’s ‘gifts’ to an autistic person, they might think you’re about to give them a present. So we altered the process to use more literal language.”

According to the FPLD guide, questions are best presented in language such as “what do you think you are good at?” and “what things do you like to do?” rather than asking about “dreams”, “goals” and “gifts”. Keeping the language simple, according to Davies, generates a higher level of benefit for autistic individuals.


The actual setting in which a plan is laid out can prove problematic too.

“Meetings with the support circle can be overwhelming for some autistic young people because at times it can seem very crowded for them,” Davies says. “Similarly, the use of large flip-charts and multi-coloured markers for setting out the plan can be over stimulating or distracting.”

Once these potential problem areas are altered to best suit an autistic individual, however, PCP can be highly beneficial.

Carol Povey, head of service quality for the National Autistic Society, says person-centred planning systems are vital for people with autism because it is a spectrum disorder.

“People with spectrum disorders have very diverse and individual needs, so a plan tailored to the individual is key,” she says.

Achieving goals

Melanie Lee is 19 and has autism. She created a person-centred plan with her family and social workers. Her goals were to live in a house with her friends and to go back to college. Through PCP, she has been able to achieve both.

“For Melanie, this programme was a complete success,” her mother, Kelly Lee, says. “Before the planning, Melanie was becoming aggressive at home because she wanted more independence. As a mother, I wasn’t really recognising that but the programme helped me see it. Then I could help my daughter reach her full potential and the programme gave us the control we needed.”

Following the identification of Melanie’s goals, Kelly and other members of the support circle turned talk into action – Kelly took Melanie to visit the college she was interested in attending, while Melanie’s transition worker made a referral to the housing social worker to organise somewhere for Melanie to live.

Povey says these post-planning stages are the most critical part of the process.

“Planning on its own doesn’t change anything,” she says. “It’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure that action is taken so that the young person can see this plan is going to make a difference in their lives. You definitely don’t want the reverse to happen, where a plan is left to sit on the shelf. The whole point of person-centred planning is to empower the individual.”

➔ Download or order We Can Dream, free

➔ Additional information about PCP available from the NAS 

➔ There is a website designed, planned and run by people with learning disabilities to help others stay in control of their lives


How people with autism can set up a support circle (source: We Can Dream)

● Meet your supporter (this could be a parent, teacher or social worker) and list your family members, close friends and other important people in your life.

● From the list, think of the people you would like to support you.

● Set a date, time and place to hold your first circle of support meeting.

● Ask your supporter to help you plan the first meeting. You need to think about who will lead the meeting with you.

This article is published in the 5 November 2009 edition of Community Care under the headline “We’ve got a plan”

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