Advisory: Five Ways to Support Adults on the Autism Spectrum When Engaging in Conversation


Randolph, Mass. – Even the most well-intentioned and informed adults can flounder when it comes to communicating effectively with peers, co-workers, classmates, or gym buddies on the autism spectrum. While no two individuals with autism have the same language and social skills, there a few basic courtesies that you can extend to enhance the level of comfort and understanding between you and another. 

1. Address him or her as you would an adult, not a child. Do not make assumptions about a person’s cognitive skills. An individual’s disability may be more language-based and not related to their ability to comprehend the content of the conversation. In other words, a person may understand every word you say, but may have difficulty responding verbally.

2. Avoid using words or phrases that are too familiar or personal. For example, terms like “honey,” “sweetie,” “cute,” and “adorable,” even when intended as endearments, can come across as demeaning or disrespectful to any person, but particularly to someone working to establish his or her independence. 

3. Say what you mean. When interacting with an adult with autism, be literal – clear and concise. Avoid the use of slang, nuance, and sarcasm. These forms of communication may be confusing and not easily understood.

4. When asking a question, wait for a response. If someone doesn’t respond immediately to your question, do not assume they haven’t heard or understood you. Just like typical adults, individuals on the autism spectrum sometimes need a little more time to absorb and process information before giving you their response.

5. Don’t speak as if the person is not in the room. You may find yourself in a group setting that includes someone on the autism spectrum. As in any other social situation, do not talk about the person as if he or she is not in the room. In a group setting with family members, caregivers, teachers, or others, it is easy to be drawn into this trap. Model the appropriate behavior; this will help inform others on how to be more supportive of adults with autism in these kinds of situations.

About May Institute
May Institute is an award-winning nonprofit organization that provides educational, rehabilitative, and behavioral healthcare services to individuals of all ages with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities, brain injury, and behavioral health needs. Since its founding more than 60 years ago, May Institute has evolved into a national network that serves thousands of individuals and their families annually. With corporate headquarters in Randolph, Mass., the Institute operates more than 140 service locations in more than a dozen states. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit

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