World Autism Awareness Day and Homelessness
Now that there is more awareness around autism, the prevalence of diagnosis is growing but has the housing sector kept up with these findings?
Studies show that between 12.3% and 18% of people affected by homelessness score above the clinical threshold for autism and a further 8.5% are borderline according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (5th edition).
A few of the symptoms, according to the NHS include
· Difficulty understanding thoughts and feelings
· Anxiety in social situations
· Difficulty making friends
· Appearing rude when interacting
· Taking things literally
· Being unable to cope with a change of routine
· Not understanding social rules
· The need to avoid eye contact
· Noticing smells or sounds that others do not
These symptoms can be an enormous barrier when attempting to work with housing and the lack of awareness can mean that people who have autism are neither accounted for in planning nor adapted to.
Individuals with autism are disproportionately represented in the homelessness figures for several reasons. They are more likely to face events that can lead to homelessness like maintaining regular employment and experiencing breakdowns in relationships. This in turn can lead to those at risk of homelessness internalising their difficulties and finding themselves socially excluded.
Many of the risk factors that lead to housing complications within the population are already experienced by those with autism, such as poverty and interpersonal challenges. This means that there is a high likelihood of these adverse life experiences leading to a life without a place to call home.
What does this mean in reality?
When it comes to daily living, people with autism can be unable to cope with changes to routine, noisy households, or different sensory things. Shared accommodation is almost impossible for many and the individual can appear to be ungrateful for the housing support that they have received. Although this can appear rude to those without awareness, having an understanding of the triggers and needs of applicants can lead to a successful placement.
The emotional breakdowns of autistic people can cause them to turn down accommodation or leave. On many occasions, it is considered that they are being difficult and they will be deemed as intentionally homeless. For someone who experiences sensory overload by flickering lights, a flickering bulb can cause excruciating pain. For a person who is unable to handle loud noises and uses noise mufflers to leave the house, they do not want to have to wear them at home because the person in the flat next door plays their music loudly at night.
People with autism can be considered to be rude and abrupt which causes difficulties making friends when expected to live in shared buildings or communal corridors. If people are impatient and do not understand the situation there is a high potential of conflict and concerns around anti-social behaviour, leading to criminal records, bad references, and a reluctance from housing to rehouse.
Social naivety, misunderstanding of social cues, rigid adherence to rules, not understanding the implications of their behaviour, and extreme reactions to triggers can lead to criminalisation which then becomes a barrier to finding and maintaining housing
An understanding of the sensory triggers and barriers for each client can support the person to be successful in the property that they are offered.
What is being done about it?
A toolkit has been developed for staff and organisations that has been compiled by professionals, those with lived experience, and others to support the recognition and effective working with people who are or may be autistic.
That is where World Autism Awareness Day comes in. Bringing awareness of the different needs of clients, awareness of the best circumstances required for an individual to thrive, and awareness of the barriers to services that neurodiverse people experience.
By improving communication, restructuring service delivery, and providing alternative formats such as visual information, more people can be supported in a person-centered way to access housing.
Through the use of vouchers, The Clothing Collective attempts to support the reestablishment of pride, dignity, and respect. You too could help the homeless and those facing poverty.
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