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Media Tips When Interviewing Persons Living with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disability, but there is a wide range of ability among people with autism. Some are gifted and others need significant levels of support to ensure their health and well-being. Children and adults with autism have difficulty with social communication/interaction and exhibit restrictive and/or repetitive patterns of behavior.

Social Communication/Interaction Behaviors:

  • Difficulty establishing or maintaining back-and forth conversations and interactions
  • Inability to initiate an interaction
  • Problems with shared attention or sharing of emotions and interests with others
  • Abnormal eye contact, posture, facial expressions, tone of voice and gestures, as well as an inability to understand these
  • Lack of interest in other people
  • Difficulties in pretend play
  • Engaging in age appropriate social activities
  • Problems adjusting to different social expectations.

Restrictive/Repetitive Behaviors:

  • Stereotyped or repetitive speech, motor movements or use of objects
  • Excessive adherence to routines
  • Ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behavior
  • Excessive resistance to change
  • Highly restricted interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus
  • Hyper or hypo reactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment

There is no single behavior that is always present in every individual with autism. Although there are similar aspects, each person has a different way of self-regulating, stimming and interacting. Stimming or self-regulation could present in many forms, such as:

  • Repetitive humming,
  • Hand/arm flapping,
  • Rocking,
  • Pacing,
  • Etc.

Always recognize that an interview is a highly unusual setting. This is amplified when you’re preparing to work with a person with autism. Individual prep before any media interview is strongly encouraged, especially when you’re preparing to work with children with autism. To ensure success, the reporter should take time either before the interview or schedule a prep phone call with people close to the interviewee to ask a few key questions, including:

  • What could I do to make ___ more comfortable?
  • What are some things you want me to know about ___ in advance?

When referring to those living with a disability, some people prefer person-first language, which puts the person before the disability (e.g., a person who is blind), while others prefer identity-first language (e.g., a disabled person), as they feel their disability is an integral part of who they are. It is most acceptable, and thus advised and encouraged to always use person-first language (e.g., a child with autism).

Basic principles of disability etiquette:

  •  If you would like to help someone with a disability, ask if he or she needs it, and listen to any instructions the person may want to give.
  • Be considerate of the extra time it might take a person with a disability to get things done or said. Let the person set the pace in walking and talking.
  • Call a person by his or her first name only when you extend this familiarity to everyone present.
  • Don’t be embarrassed if you happen to use common expressions that seem to relate to the person’s disability such as “See you later” or “I’ve got to run.”
  • If you have a question about access, always ask it.
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