How social workers can improve assessments for adults with autism

With just one-quarter of adults with autism surveyed by the National Autistic Society saying their social worker had a good understanding of the condition, the charity's Mari Saeki provides advice on how practitioners can improve assessments.

Sharpen up your practice with adults with autism

Advice and support on assessments will be available at Community Care’s forthcoming autism conference.

Register now for a discounted place at the event on 18 September in London.

Just 23% people with autism responding to a recent National Autistic Society (NAS) survey said that the social workers they had come into contact with had a good understanding of the condition and its impact.

This and other findings from our Push For Action report show that the provisions of the Autism Act 2009 and the 2010 national autism strategy, designed to improve outcomes for adults with autism and their families, are still a long way from becoming a reality for the thousands of adults with the condition living in England.

We’re calling on local authorities and the NHS to make meeting commitments set out under the Act a priority so that adults with autism get all the support and services that they need.

One of these commitments is providing proper training in autism for community care assessors. Some local authorities are doing well but the overall picture across England is patchy and more needs to be done. While nothing can supplement good training, here are the NAS’ top tips for social workers supporting adults with the disability:

  • Prepare: think in particular about how best to communicate and engage with a person with autism and allow plenty of time. It may not be easy and new ways of working will sometimes need to be found. Speak to the person’s family and carers.
  • Don’t confuse intellect and ability to communicate on certain subjects as a sign that the person has no difficulties. A person may be highly articulate but be social isolated and have serious problems with performing daily living tasks.
  • Be aware that some people will resist support. Do not take lack of initial engagement as evidence of a lack of needs.
  • People with autism may misrepresent or under-represent their own needs; sometimes because they don’t know how to express these needs themselves. It is important for professionals to be aware of this. Involve people’s wider support networks in the initial assessment process and help the person find ways to express their needs.
  • Use person-centred planning – as well as the person themselves, involve parents, carers and other natural support networks in your assessing and planning.
  • Make sure you spend time finding out what the person’s skills, strengths and abilities are, and what makes them tick. Understanding what is important to the person will make for a more successful assessment in the first instance. It will also boost people’s self-esteem as they see that their interests and concerns are being considered.
  • Notice and record details that are important to a person’s well-being. Paying attention to these things – even if they appear to be small or idiosyncratic to you – can be very important to those with autism.
  • Use visual methods of communicating if these will help the person you’re working with. Consider reinforcing spoken information with written and pictorial information. This may vary from visual schedules to the use of a calendar or diary.
  • Learn to identify the signs of stress in the person with autism and have agreed strategies to deal with this. Discuss this in a calm moment with the person themselves (if they are able), as well as with their family or those who know them best.
  • Remember that people with autism may have additional needs that should be considered: they may experience anxiety or depression, have sensory sensitivities, or co-morbid conditions such as ADHD or dyspraxia.
  • Always be aware of sensory issues. People with autism may not be able to tell you what is causing them stress; sometimes, you may need to be a detective and try to imagine what could be causing it. For example, it could be a noise that is so low that you have not registered it.
  • Tailor assessment and ongoing support to people’s individual needs. Record people’s strengths and abilities as well as their support needs.
  • Above all, try to understand autism, understand the person and develop a positive relationship.

As part of the NAS’s Push For Action campaign, a best practice guide of local authorities has been produced. For information on how far individual local authorities have implemented the provisions of the Autism Act, visit our campaign page

Mari Saeki is project officer for the NAS’s family services development officer and co-author of the charity’s guide to assessing the social care needs of adults with autism.

What do you think about the quality of social work for adults with autism?

Community Care is conducting a survey of social care professionals on the quality of support for adults with autism. Have your say and enter our competition to win a Kindle Fire HD tablet. The survey is sponsored by support provider Autism Care UK.

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