With help and support, many people with autism can develop life skills – making them more independent and giving them a greater sense of their own worth. They may find great difficulty in managing bills and money; and may show little or no interest in diet or in personal hygiene. Using public transport may be daunting: it can be the case that attending a job interview is much more stressful because public transport has to be used.
Even highly intelligent people with autism may be intimidated by filling in forms. Often the best solution is time-limited support under a supported living contract, following an assessment of needs.
Most people make personal hygiene part of their daily routine. Someone with autism may need to be reminded that washing and bathing are part of their routine. Checklists and (if it helps) pictures on a calendar may help. Depending on the person, you may need to give detailed reminders: for example check that the water is not too hot; remember to shampoo your hair; remember to rinse out the shampoo. It’s impossible to give general rules, because everyone will be different. Children may be sensitive to being touched and/or to colour and smell. They may not understand the concept of ‘clean’, and may not wash. They may not understand the need to use the toilet. Advice is to break down tasks into individual steps, and, if possible, have two adults on hand when something difficult (for example cutting fingernails) is being done. One adult can distract the child while the other carries out the task. A soft toothbrush and flavoured toothpaste may help overcome dislike of brushing teeth. A system of rewards may also help.
Helping someone with autism to develop life skills is the best way to maximise their independence. Even someone living independently is likely to need some help and support – maybe only a few hours now and then. Your local authority has a legal duty to assess the needs of anyone who may be in need of community services.
People with autism vary widely in their interest in social interaction. Some are self-absorbed much of the time; others welcome company but may not understand the unwritten ‘social rules’ which most people pick up easily. People with autism may therefore appear awkward or clumsy, or even rude. They may realise that behaviour which is fine for someone you know well – saying hello, taking them by the hand – may be disconcerting or even scary to someone encountered on the street. With care and support, many people with autism can learn how to interact better with other people. This in turn can lessen their anxiety.