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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder, and how to support Autistic people at work.

Last updated: 02 October 2023

What is ASD?

Autism, sometimes called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects social communication and interaction, as well as restricted and repetitive behaviours and interests. Autism is a spectrum condition, meaning symptoms can range significantly from one person to another. The spectrum is circular and not linear. It is not about being more/less Autistic but about accepting that Autism can represent very differently from one person to another.

Some common symptoms of Autism include difficulty with social interactions, such as difficulty making and maintaining eye contact, and understanding social cues. Autistic people can enjoy socialising, but they often have their own unique process for socialising.

Socialising can also be exhausting for an Autistic person as it is a cognitive process rather than an intuitive one, which means Autistic people may leave a social function early, or take a break, or just not say very much.

Individuals with ASD may also have restricted and repetitive behaviours and interests, such as repeating certain behaviours or routines, fixating on specific topics or objects, and showing an intense interest in a specific topic or activity.

How to support colleagues with ASD

Here are ten tips you can use to support an Autistic colleague:

  1. Educate yourself about Autism and how it can affect your colleague's work. Be aware of their specific challenges and strengths.
  2. Let Autistic people be themselves, for example, sometimes Autistic people often give very detailed answers to questions, perhaps more than is required, but be sympathetic to that while keeping a meeting on point.
  3. Be clear and concise when communicating with your colleague. Avoid using sarcasm or figures of speech, and be direct in your communication.
  4. Provide a structured environment that is predictable and consistent. This can help your colleague feel more comfortable and reduce their anxiety.
  5. Offer support and guidance when needed. Encourage your colleague to ask questions and offer to help when they need it.
  6. Respect their boundaries as some Autistic people may have sensory sensitivities or personal space boundaries that need to be respected, for instance sitting in the corner, or against the wall, and away from bright lights and noise. Be mindful of your colleague's needs and preferences. These adjustments will be different for each individual and will require discussion about what these adjustments look like in specific musician-focussed contexts.
  7. Support their routine and don’t disrupt it or their schedule unnecessarily. Disruption can be distressing for most Autistic people. Let them sit at the same place each day. Don’t change or modify their space.
  8. Send agendas in advance and whenever possible, try to tell the person what to expect before a rehearsal, performance or meeting. Agendas do this well.
  9. Explain unwritten rules and let the person know if there are any expected ways of doing things or interacting which are not clearly stated.
  10. Create quiet spaces such as a quiet green room for artists, or the option to join meetings on Zoom with the camera off if they feel overwhelmed.

Further resources on ASD

  • National Autistic Society website
  • Resources for Autism
  • A handbook for embracing neurodiversity in the creative industries "Creative Differences"
  • AutismAble are a wellbeing, employment and life-long learning centre, providing personal centred support for individuals with ASC (Autism Spectrum Condition) and learning differences. AutismAble have partnered with Youth Music to provide free music tuition for young people aged 14-25 in South Tyneside, North Tyneside and Sunderland.

The contents of this page was provided by Tristan Hunt.

About the author

Tristan HuntTristan Hunt is a renowned Music Industry ADHD Coach, working with Grammy-nominated, Mobo & Brit Award-winning artists and top brands like Pioneer DJ, BIMM, and Sony Music UK. A former AFEM Regional Manager, Tristan's two decades in the music industry and his personal experience with ADHD, dyslexia, and dyscalculia make him a trusted coach for artists and professionals with ADHD.

Certified as a Transformational Coach with specialized ADHD training, he is part of Sony Music UK’s coaching pool. He also has associations with industry giants like Lateral Mgmt and Infectious PR. His contributions to the Association For Electronic Music (AFEM) have been significant, from founding its Mental Health Working Group to serving on its Executive Board.

A recognized voice on ADHD and mental health in music, Tristan has spoken at global conferences like ADE and IMS and has been spotlighted in Billboard, DJ Mag, and the BBC. He holds degrees from Southampton and Birkbeck Universities, a coaching diploma from Animas, UK, and ADHD coach training from ADDCA, USA. Offstage, Tristan occasionally showcases his skills as a DJ.

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