What care staff need to know to work with adults with autism

Social care staff looking to identify the skills and they need to work with people with autism can draw on a series of resources that links these skills to qualifications, says Marie Lovell of Skills for Care.

A support worker with an adult with autism (credit: National Autistic Society)

In 2010-11 Skills for Care and Skills for Health worked together to produce a series of documents about how the generic health and social care workforce can better meet the needs of people who have autism – be that as clients, carers, patients, staff or members of the public. The documents were the result of research and focus groups involving over 2,000 people; 800 of whom identified themselves as a person with autism or a family carer. 

Key in the series was the Autism skills and knowledge list, which identifies the main skills required of staff in working with people with autism at basic, intermediate and specialist levels. The list outlines the underpinning values required to support people with autism, the awareness required of non-specialist staff whose roles may bring them into contact with people with autism, and the skills that should be possessed by staff who have intensive contact with people with autism (intermediate skills and knowledge) and those in specialist roles or services.

Intermediate skills include using appropriate communication skills and recognising when a person is experiencing stress and anxiety and supporting them with this; specialist skills include diagnosis and assessment. The document also provides a checklist for staff to assess their level of skill and knowledge, identify improvement areas and devise action plans to meet the skills they need.

Linking skills to qualifications

The list was cross-referenced against the autism units within the diplomas in health and social care, under the Qualifications and Curriculum Framework (QCF), and small amendments made to the units to ensure all desired outcomes were covered. The links between the skills and knowledge list and the units are mapped out in the accompanying document, Implementing the autism skills and knowledge list through staff training and development.

A further specialist QCF competence unit at level 3 has been developed; support workers working with people with autism can select this optional unit when they undertake the level 3 health and social care diploma. Alternatively, if they already have a diploma or NVQ, they might take this unit on its own as part of continuing professional development (CPD). We keep under review the idea of developing a small qualification in autism.

Positive impact

Over six thousand people have downloaded documents from the series. Those who hadn’t downloaded them tended to mention busy lives, lack of time or technical ability, or to express lack of confidence that they would make a difference. We carried out a survey with a sample of people who had used the documents: over 50% had seen a positive impact and a further 20% felt it was too soon to say. The documents had been used for benchmarking current training, discussions or briefings in staff meetings, auditing service performance or staff behaviour, or improving family carers’ understanding of autism. They had also been integrated into staff inductions or used to address complaints.

“I think there has been a positive impact regarding people’s understanding of autism and their ability to see why people are upset or in crisis and therefore to have more empathy towards the person with autism rather than just seeing their behaviours as non-compliant or anti-social,” said one respondent.

Further training resources

Other resources have developed for specific groups of health and social care staff by various professional organisations, a full list of which is available on the National Autistic Society website. Social care workers may find the resources produced by Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), British Psychological Society (BPS), and Oxford University particularly useful. The Scie resource includes videos

These include videos about supporting someone with autism from various points of view including a care worker and a person with autism (SCIE) and around 35 people who have autism or are family members of people with autism talking about a range of challenges and situations (Oxford University). 

Enhance your autism knowledge

Marie Lovell is project manager in Skills for Care’s policy team. She will be talking on this topic at our forthcoming conference on supporting adults with autism, on 4 October. Register before 28 September for a discounted place.

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