What reasonable adjustments are you making to support your Autistic clients?

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What reasonable adjustments are you making to support your Autistic clients?
Published on:
3rd August 2022

It is pleasing to see that in more recent times there have been some attempts made to identify how lawyers can better support the needs of autistic clients. I believe this is a positive move in the right direction, however, in my view, there is still so much more which can and should be done to achieve greater awareness in this area. 

I recently asked my son what the one thing he wishes neurotypical people knew about him and he replied, “Just because I’m autistic it does not mean there is something wrong with me!”. Whilst I am understandably very proud of his response, it also saddens me that this is the way he feels and more likely than not, how many autistic children and adults in our community feel as well. 

When I think of the myriad of challenges my son faces every single day it should come as no surprise why, by the end of his school day he is exhausted. 

We tend to conclude that life is about ‘give and take’ yet I cannot help but feel there is so much more which we could give through making simple reasonable adjustments which would have such a positive impact for both autistic adults and children. So, in my professional capacity as a Family Law Solicitor what reasonable adjustments do I make to assist my autistic clients?

In answer to this question, I have provided some bullet points, however, I wish to make clear this list is by no means exhaustive, and one size does not fit all: 

  • Eye contact: making eye contact for some autistic adults can be extremely stressful and can increase anxiety. One of the first things I establish is whether my client has limited eye contact so I can in turn subtly reduce my own eye contact in order to help my clients.  
  • Heightened anxiety: The autistic brain often experiences heightened anxiety which can be impacted by changes in routine and uncertainty about the future. If unsupported heightened anxiety can often lead to  meltdowns. To better support my clients, I ensure the duration of my meetings are limited and I build in routine breaks for processing time.
  • Conversation response time: For some, the autistic brain can take a little longer to process information and/or instructions. A simple adjustment here is to ensure my clients know they can take their time and respond when they are ready free of pressure and judgement.
  • Visual thinker: The autistic brain tends to be a visual thinking. I will always consider whether it might be more helpful to communicate in writing to better help my clients to process all of the information they are given. 
  • Sensory Stimuli: The autistic brain can often be easily distracted and become overwhelmed with sensory stimuli, therefore I always take an audit of my meeting room and make sure that any unnecessary distraction is removed to create a safe and comfortable environment for my clients. 
  • Structure: having a structure and a plan proves very helpful in helping my client’s to manage their anxiety. I therefore ensure that at the beginning of each meeting, the structure and timeline of our meeting is outlined, an agenda often proves useful. This in turn enables my clients to feel reassured and supported at all times.

The above is only a small selection of the many changes which could and should be put in place when our autistic clients engage in the services of a Lawyer. 

My parting advice would be to not ever generalise or make assumptions about the needs of your client and of fundamental importance is making sure that all of our clients feel safe, supported, understood and crucially respected. 

Kelly Pougher, Director and Founder of Pougher-Round Solicitors has a wealth of personal and professional experience in dealing with the complex issue arising in the breakdown of relationships involving children and families connected with Autism.  Malvern House, New Road, Solihull. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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