What is a trusted person like?
It is essential that young people have someone around them who they feel they can trust and meet their needs. So we have worked together with our community members to create the key traits/ behaviours we believe people should have:
Beliefs and Values
Respectful: A trusted person believes in two way respect, focusing on earning it, rather than demanding it because of their position. They are comfortable with working in equal partnership to problem solve. Being honest and trusting a young person is an invitation that they can in turn return that trust.
Neurodiversity affirming: They don’t expect you to be “normal”, and instead support you to become your best possible autistic self. They are able to stick up for a young person/ be their voice when talking to professionals, using these principles. Please see What is neurodiversity affirming.
Young people do well IF THEY CAN: They have belief in a young person. They can meet a young person where they are and allow them to take the lead rather than following their own agenda or expecting too much. They believe that young people can overcome obstacles with the right support and give a seed of belief that things can improve, even if the young person doesn’t believe it themselves just yet.
This includes being able to act as a facilitator: Rather than assuming you know what is best, is it possible to offer young people a wide range of opportunities, but let them take the lead in deciding which ones to pursue (with your support)? You can also offer opportunities by sparking engagement or taking the lead in doing an activity, showing it is ok for young people to try it too, if they would like to. Alternatively, you can mirror them and show you are with them on their journey.
Patience is also key here. Sometimes it can feel like there is no progress, but building trust can take a long time and it is often not linear. Putting young people in the lead and holding space for them is key, but it is also important to know that building your relationship may take a long time.
Real: They have to have a real interest in and care for the young person. They also have to be open and honest (in the right way). If they are unsure of what to do, they say this. If they are having a bad day/ are tired or aren't at their best, they let you know in advance. Otherwise, a young person may feel they are to blame for something, when the person is having a bad day.
It is helpful if the trusted person also has something in common with the young person. It could be shared interests (if not, they take time to learn about them), they may have a similar sense of humour or may have a natural connection with each other.
It isn’t possible to get everything right, but what matters to young people is that you are willing to try your best and learn from your mistakes. Are you able to say sorry if you get something wrong, and work together with young people to improve your practice?
Curious: They don’t take it personally if you are struggling. Instead, they are proactive in trying to understand difficulties and what can help. They regularly engage in self reflection and think about what they can do better.
Being open to suggestions of ways to improve can show young people that their needs are being taken seriously. Can you create a space where it is ok for young people to give feedback, and where this feedback is always followed up?
This includes being able to have uncomfortable discussions. If a young person has struggled, it feels easier to continue on as if nothing has happened. But this can lead to difficulties in the long term if challenges are not addressed. Having discussions about what went wrong is uncomfortable at first, but it leads to the best possible chance of success in the long term. See our NEST Approach for advice on how to do this in a meaningful way.
Being curious also means we don't have to jump straight in if we see an issue. Instead sit back, look and observe. Uncertainty and difficulty is normal, but young people learn the most when they can do things for themselves. If they are struggling, think about why and offer support if they need it. If what they are doing is likely to impact on other members, it may be helpful to proactively work with them to create alternative solutions. You can do this alongside them, rather than doing it for them (but have solutions ready if you feel they are needed).
Understanding autism: Many things that have been said about autism in the past are incorrect. As more research has been done, it is important to learn about autism from recent writings and reliable sources. It is really helpful to learn about autism from autistic people, to better understand what it really means to be autistic.
This includes learning about:
Sensory regulation - Autistic people experience sensory differences which impact on their ability to learn and feel comfortable. It is important to know how to prevent sensory distress and how to make sure young people are regulated throughout the day.
The impact of trauma on autistic young people
Being prepared: Every autistic person is different. While you can learn about autism theory and concepts in a positive way from autistic advocates and professionals, directly listening to and learning from autistic young people themselves is really helpful. Can you really get to know a young person, their possible triggers and proactively learn about them/ their needs?
Committed: They stick to agreements they have made. If they can’t, they let you know as soon as possible and explain why. They make sure they have spare time and brain energy to support a young person when they need it. They are able to hold the space rather than being preoccupied/ busy.
It is impossible to be at your best for young people if you are stressed yourself. Do you have opportunities for self care, so you can always be at your best when you are supporting young people and offer the consistency they need?
Commitment includes an intention to invest a specified period of time with a young person. Notice and closure is needed if a trusted person is moving on. Can you agree to a therapeutic ending if needed?
A common issue for young people is developing a relationship, then it ends suddenly. Is it possible for you to use your time to help a young person develop trusting relationships with others too, if they start to trust you?
Good communicator: They communicate in a way that works for autistic people, rather than expecting them to change their natural communication style. This includes recognising that autistic people’s level of communication can change depending on the environment and level of stress, so they are able to adapt their communication/ expectations based on this. This includes having open communication: if things have to change explain why.
Friendly and approachable: It is important that young people can feel able to approach you to express how they are feeling or what they require. They are then able to adapt plans/ ideas, rather than being rigid, or taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Be a person they can develop a positive relationship with, and you can then be a safe base for young people to develop relationships with others.