Guidelines for presenting to an autistic audience.
Written in collaboration with the Autism@Manchester Expert by Experience Group.
While we are aware that most researchers will already be experienced professional presenters in their own right, not everyone may be experienced in addressing an audience drawn directly from the autistic community. We are also aware that there is quite a range of conflicting perspectives on general good practice. We have now been running the Autism@Mancesther Expert by Experience group since 2017, four times a year, and our own understanding of best practice when presenting to an autistic audience continues to develop and adapt.
Below are a few suggestions drawn from our own experience and those of previous guests which we hope you will find helpful in adapting your usual style to gain best advantage when speaking to an autistic audience. We hope you will find them useful.
Please do try to:
- Use analogies to illustrate complicated/technical points.
- Include a content warning at the beginning of your presentation if it may include any content or imagery which may concern, alarm or otherwise have a negative impact on an audience member.
- Expect to have your preconceptions about autism challenged, but don’t feel threatened by it – the group is there to help educate you, not to undermine you.
- Consider that some topics may be particularly sensitive. For example, research suggests that gender variance is more common in autistic individuals and that gender diverse individuals have higher rates of autism (see George and Stokes, 2017, Autism). However, there is a variance in belief on gender identity. Therefore, it may be more appropriate to collect both biological sex and an optional component of gender in research studies to allow participants to identify with their preferred identity, and also to capture contextual data relating to both aspects that could be directly relevant for the current or future analysis.
Please try to avoid:
- Deficit model terms in your presentation (e.g. disorder, abnormal, deficit, impairment) - some researchers have made the mistake of assuming that any difference between non-autistic participants and autistic participants represents a deficiency rather than variation (see Mottron, 2011, Nature). Please consider this when writing and making your presentation, as you are likely to be challenged on this by the audience. It is quite a contentious issue in the community. Researchers should avoid viewing the whole of the autistic person as disabled, but understand that many autistic people do recognize that some of their traits are disabling and would like them researched more.
- “Person first” language - research shows that most autistic people tend to prefer being referred to as “autistic people” rather than “people with autism” (see Kenny et al 2015 Autism).
- Large amount of information presented on screen while talking – this can be distracting.
- Technical terms, jargon, acronyms, circumlocution, or any other “forms of speech” that do not say exactly what they mean and mean exactly what they say - where specific technical terms must be used, please italicise where used and give a clear, precise, concise explanation on first use.
- Acronyms if the viewer has forgotten what the acronym stood for it makes for very confusing listening later on.
- Large blocks of text - larger font with double spacing are easier to read and it is best to use bullet point notes
- Multiple fonts, font sizes, and formatting (e.g. for headers, including variability in underlining, italics, bold). Sans serif fonts (e.g. Arial) are generally considered most easily read.
- Cluttered slide layouts.
- Lots of moving graphics.
- Bright, contrasting colours e.g. pure black text on pure white background (dark/navy blue/indigo helps on a white background; the background being a pale pastel colour also helps, even with black fonts).
- Extraneous/excessive clip art etc. - images that are not specifically relevant to / necessitated by the text can be distracting, as autistic people may focus on trying to understand why those particular images have been selected rather than the content/message of the presentation.
- Flashing lights and/or sudden loud noises may upset and or alarm some autistic people and render the presentation use.