(A List of Things)

What This Is

This is just a list of miscellaneous adaptations and accommodations that are useful for people on the autism spectrum.
"The Spectrum" generally means the autism Spectrum, including Asperger's syndrome, HFA, PDD, Kanner's autism, and other autism spectrum conditions. Many of us are comfortable with the generic reference of "autistic".


exercises.html describes where people on "the Spectrum" have difficulty in understanding the nuances of daily negotiated transactions. This page addresses specific adaptations to various issues.

BORING TEXT WARNING: A lot of this is obvious and therefore boring. I've noticed in life that some things are obvious only in hindsight.

The List of Things

Eye Contact

... and "inappropriate gaze"

Wear sunglasses

Tell people you don't "do" eye contact well.
That way, what they notice will simply confirm what you've already told them. This is somewhat less disconcerting for them.

Be aware that "good eye contact" can look evasive if you tend to look away when dealing with tough questions.
If you artificially maintain eye contact, concentrate harder at it during the rough parts of the conversation.

Watch a person's forehead, nose or other feature.
It's not the same as eye contact, but meets the NT requirements for "good eye contact". It probably is eye contact since NTs really use eye contact for "reading" facial body language.

Be aware of critical situations where you may have to declare an inability to read body language.
An example would be a critical police encounter. General interactions with police and security personnel usually do not require good eye contact.


Prosopagnosia is face blindness. One fails to recognize a familiar person (eg., a significant other!) in an unfamiliar environment. Obviously this affects people to different degrees.
Let people know you don't recognize faces well. If someone expects not to be recognized, the person won't be insulted when you "ignore" him or her.

Try recognizing a person's gait.
Spy agencies consider that to be the best way to identify people. It also seems to work for dogs, as they can identify people before smelling them.

More "work-arounds" are at growingjoel's faceblind page

Consider dressing up as a dog.

CRS Sufferers

(can't remember .. uh.. stuff)
Get a good alarm clock program for your computer.
You may already have one as part of an antivirus program, communications program, or scheduler. Make sure it's set to be always active, or is linked in a "startup" or folder or initialization file.

Use a PDA, computer program or paper datebook to keep info
This is good for such items as appointments, names, etc.

Computer date/appointment reminders must be kept operating in the background for the program to work. Also be familiar with the program's protocols for the appointment alarm function.

One good source is Palm desktop software, which is usually a free download. Most "office" programs have datebooks.

Use a checklist if you need to. An example is described at growingjoel's checklists page
If you use these, keep them simple and use them as "checklists"; not "do-lists". A "checklist" is reviewed after part of a routine task is completed, to "check" that nothing was missed. This makes the use of checklists much easier.

Social Situations

... ranging from awkwardness and manipulation
Be aware of when NTs are using social tricks.
These can range from "playing" with response time in conversation, to unequal treatment of peers. Sometimes recognizing the problem is the greater part of solving it.

Be cynical.
Sometimes recognizing the problem ...

It's a word in the English vocabulary. Learn it.
(The Celtic language does not have a "no". I understand that proper etiquette in Ireland is to say, "I will not".)

When a pilot is unable to comply with a request from a controller, the pilot will respond, "Unable." Don't be afraid to say you are unable or unwilling to do something.

Be aware of people who make a habit of pointing out your social foibles.
If someone is aware of someone else's weakness, they should accommodate it; not take advantage of it.

If you are with someone and you know that you may be committing a minor social transgression, give your friend "warning".
"I don't think I'll be able to stand through the introductions. Cover for me, please." That way, your friend can easily work out or avoid any awkwardness.
If necessary, tell your friend not to "make excuses", but instead simply state, "He/she isn't being rude."

Being with a pet makes it easier to interact with other people.

You don't get it.
... because
1.   "It" is undefined; and
2.   "It" will remain a secret, retained by the self-defined initiates.


If a business or financial arrangement is not fully understandable, don't trust it.
Some complex finances are trustworthy, for example home purchase mortgages or purchases of stock shares listed on a stock exchange. Untrustworthy arrangements are ones with which you are unfamiliar or which are unregulated.

Worse yet are unregulated financial arrangements whose promoters claim to be under direct regulatory supervision. If you don't understand it, nobody will undertake to understand it for you.

My personal approach is to just say (perhaps to myself), "I'm too stupid to do this." (I can get away with this because I do come across as reasonably intelligent in some other respects. -- In most or all cases, the actual words I use are, "No.")

Give it the "Time Share Condominium" test.
(A "time share condominium " is a type of real estate purchase, which often involves costs and assumptions which are unreasonable, resulting in negative equity value. There are a few instances where the purchasor finds value, but those instances are exceedingly rare.)

If the financial arrangement involves too many contingencies, then the arrangement will only be beneficial if all or most of the contingencies are met. Use the "time share" test to see if the arrangements are of that nature.

Avoid purchases you hadn't planned for.
"planned for" can be specific or general. "Not planned for" are things one had no intention to purchase, such as an "extended warranty" for a product.

"Impulse purchases" can be planned for under this criteria, since one anticipates wishing to make some types of impulse purchases.

If something has a penalty for not immediately purchasing, decline the purchase.
On the average, a penalty for delay means that you'll find a better purchase elsewhere. The penalty for delay generally means that the business would prefer you not think about the decision, even though the penalty means you won't make the purchase later.

One sales scam is to describe the delay as some sort of fee. (If you don't like their rules at the time of purchase, you won't like their rules later!)

"Cancellation Grace Period", "Cancel at any time" and other Affirmative "Opt Out" Procedures
If an "chance to change your mind" later is an essential part of an agreement, avoid it. The present is usually the best time to "opt out".

"Cancel at any time" usually requires a function more appropriate to a corporate Contract Management department. At the very least, you would require a calendar docketing system to keep track of "opt out" dates and requirements. (Then you need to prove you really did properly cancel.)
Response: "It's unrealistic. I don't have an accounting department to keep track of those things."
Better Response: "No."
Credit, Credit Cards and Mortgages
... on a separate webpage.

Work Situations

This is really a subject on its own, but here's a start.
Be careful not to create confrontations.

Try to avoid asking for things which will "cause problems" for the employer.
If an employer can accomplish something with essentially no effort, it isn't a problem. If it turns out it's more trouble to keep the employee than to do without the employee, the employer will apply that same effort to getting rid of the employee.

Object to firings.
It normally takes an exceedingly long time to develop a new job offer. If you are in a large organization and you are asked to leave, ask about Employee Assistance Programs and the like. If asked to hand in a resignation, state you need time. Then use the time to seek out employment attorneys and the like. In addition to disability issues, there could be age discrimination issues and the like.

Negotiate terms. In particular, if you can remain productively employed until you are able to land a new position, you are a lot better off. It is far easier to find a new position from an existing job. The ability to "use" the office after termination is not a practical alternative.

Know the name of at least one lawyer specializing in employment law. It may be that you will want the lawyer to negotiate separation. If you do require the lawyer's services, know what you want to ask for from the lawyer (eg, negotiate an indefinite delay in the termination process).

Note that in many cases it will not be practical or advantageous to take the "hard line" on termination. Regardless, it helps to know what your legal position is because it's better to get a better deal and yet offer concessions to your (ex) employer. If you have a third party negotiate, have the third party credit you with giving concessions.

Don't worry about being absent minded.
Pilots and others in exacting professions use checklists. Memory is presumed absent.

Don't sweat the small s____.
If something happens that you don't like, it's usually possible to work around the problem. Sometimes the change seems worse than the effect of the change.

More Work Issues - Internet Use

The mantra of "Don't put anything on a computer you don't want someone to read" is especially relevant at work. Separate:
Work Items
Work-Associated Items (but not work items)
These are things that have a plausible association to work but are not your primary duty. These are typically items which are possibly helpful at work but not directly productive. Examples are projects not directly related to productivity, general workplace projects, stuff related to stupid office parties.

Acceptable Personal Items that are work related
(pretty much the same thing as Work-Associated Items

These can also include business-related communication such as discussions of issues related to your field of work. This is generally acceptable, but if you like to bellyache about your job, move it to your personal email.

Non-Embarrassing Personal Items
If you have a defined lunch hour or the like, non-work use of the internet is accepted in some workplaces.

Items you don't want others to see; at least not at work
e.g., personal health issues; this website

Totally Stupid Things you don't want others to see
Half of the web is filled with that.

Items which are inappropriate at work
e.g., rude photos -- which seems to fill up the other half of the web

Web fads
Most of us aren't participants in that, but this consists of animations, smileys, and other enhancements. Many of these present a problem for network administrators and you don't want to  be around  when one of these blows up.

Personal Email on the Work Account
A surprising amount of this gets read, for various reasons (not necessarily for employee monitoring). If it is on a work account it should be either work-related or something you'd invite your supervisor to hear. It may be okay, for example, to send a message, "I will be leaving at 15:30, can meet at 16:15." This sort of thing, and similar terse messages may be okay. Much of this depends on your workplace's policies, and there are some businesses that try to restrict those types of messages as well.

If in doubt, leave the personal stuff off of the work account.

Most Personal Email
This is a category in its own right. If you need to check on items, use a separate account (separate from your general personal email) so you needn't access the rest of the personal stuff at work.

Inappropriate Items
This sort of thing can show up unintentionally or by accident. For example if I wanted to look up what happened to the firm Burns, Doane, Swecker & Mathis, and typed in I may end up with the results you'd expect (look at that URL).

So learn how to clear your browser's cache.

Another source of inappropriate material includes (inappropriate) items received from acquaintances. If you delete these when received, that's probably all that's necessary. If questioned, "I received some things which I determined were definitely not work related. I deleted them when I realized what it was. Beyond that, I can't comment because I had no interest in it."

If you don't want to delete it immediately, place it in a folder named something like, "verify and delete".

CRS Sufferers

(can't remember .. uh.. stuff)
Oh. It's up there.


Adult manifestations seem to be limited to "control intimidation" and social group ostracism.

This is addressed at a separate page, focused on social bullying ( socialbullying.html ).


Should you disclose your Autism Spectrum Condition?
Disclosure is final.

Disclosure should be measured and well thought out.

In some cases, you need only disclose a "characteristic".
Especially "characteristics" that someone will notice anyway. "Oh, I'm not good with eye contact."

Such half-disclosures (disclosing selected characteristics) is advantageous because:
1.   it lets them know what they will probably see anyway, so they're not surprised.

2.   it even makes them comfortable, because you told them you'd act nervous, and then you act nervous.

Since we're talking about "characteristics"
Mention loyalty, honesty, single minded concentration on the task assigned as applicable. They're good traits.

In the case of Asperger's syndrome and other HFA, name drop.
Mention famous autistics as examples of AS being "different; not broken".

Optical Sensitivity

This ranges from excess light to monitor flicker
Be aware of situations where you may have problems.
Closed rooms with fluorescent lighting would be an example.

If you know you'll be sleepy in a particular environment, have some coffee.

More on fluorescent light flicker here.

Wear sunglasses or Irlen lenses
Irlen lenses are colour-matched to the individual's optical sensitivity as determined by testing the individual.

Trivial Negotiated Interactions

If someone gives you a reason why "the rules" prevent them granting a request, try to find a different reason why:
  1. "the rules" lets them provide a specific alternative
  2. a related rule would make the job more difficult for them; and therefore the original suggestion is the most logical approach.

Separate the bureaucratic conflict from the personal interaction.
You don't need to have an NT "full-press, eye-contact" relationship; just be cordial. Many officious or jobsworth people really don't care which way they resolve "the rules", so long as they are able to implement them.

Diligence and productivity are good values, but it is almost always easier for a bureaucrat to justify something that happens to make the bureaucrat's job easier.

For this reason, it's often advantageous to appeal to the person's ability to exercise authority.
"I'm hoping you are able to help me."

In telephone interactions which are reduced to a service database, call back later to confirm the change was indeed made.

If you don't like the result, you usually can make a subsequent attempt.
Often a second phone call to a different person at the same business will bring the desired results.
If this concerns a specific identified account, they may have the earlier request on record, so mention to the second person you "started to discuss" or "raised the question" previously.

Do not pay for something until you have verified the price
In particular, stores with items "on sale" often will not register the "sale" price. If you hadn't paid for the item, it's much easier to question the price (or just leave the item to purchase it elsewhere).

Pay attention to this when making card payments or using automated checkout systems. In both cases, you have a chance to audit the price before purchase.

It is common for some merchants to "erroneously" price small items, because they know customers are aware of the higher priced items.

Sometimes it's beneficial to not complain.
I recently bought a coffee mill on eBay, which the seller thought was more-or-less inoperative. He asked for positive feedback before sending feedback. (It turned out eBay changed their feedback policy that week, and sellers could no longer give negative feedback anyway.)

It turned out I got the thing really cheap because he set the auction to end in the early morning. It also turned out that I got it working like new in something like 10 minutes with a minimum of effort. (The discharge chute was clogged.) So instead of complaining, I sent an email saying it arrived and worked:
Got it! A 3 minutes setup and I was good to go! This thing is nice and the coffee tastes better than from the blade machine it replaced. Thanks!
(I also didn't mention he could get better prices by listing in the evening.) The idea was that he "got rid of" something that really worked well for someone who knew how to work it. Subtile but more effective than bellyaching about it.


Food service people are among the most dedicated to customer service, but the intensity of customer interaction sometimes leads to less-than-satisfactory results. This is addressed on a separate page (

Priceless Items at Restaurants

also described at


There is a tendency for people on The Spectrum to not get into exercise routines, particularly in school environments. There is nothing inherent in AS to preclude exercise; rather it is the NT issues surrounding athletics that creates the problems (e.g., competition-oriented programmes, bullying).

Therefore it is particularly important to establish an exercise routine. This can range from selection of a desired sporting activity to a regular exercise routine such as jogging or cycling.

The establishment of a routine is more important than the workout itself. Examples of exercises which may be appealing:

  • cycling (organized and solo)
  • swimming
  • trail hikes (organized and solo)
  • mountain trail hikes (non-technical rock climbing)
  • jogging, running, or marathon training
  • sports, including those which are not primarily competitive.
Aerobic type activities are generally more beneficial, but any routine exercise will make a difference. Obesity is not a ticket to long and healthy life, and also creates a social and work barrier.

A side benefit to most exercise routines is that they provide optimal social opportunities, in circumstances in which NT social skills are least important. Some group activities, such as club cycling (the easier rides) and group hiking are considered "singles" activities.

Exercise Spas and Gymnasiums

Some of these are costly and involve long term contracts. If you wish to work out in one of those places, consider community based facilities (YMCA, Jewish Community Center, etc. Most do not require religious affiliation.)


Good diet is really easy, in that the effort is mostly in information gathering and being a little selective.
Get into the habit of reading labels.
Label reading makes it easier to purchase better quality and healthier foods, at better economic value.

Once you get used to what to expect on the labels, they're much easier to read. Ingredients are easiest to read in reverse order because the additives usually show up at the end of the list.

You will of course become familiar with particular brands and therefore will be able to "grab" good quality items from the shelf without reading each time.

Avoiding health-detrimental items
trans fats
mostly "hydrogenated" oils; includes margarine

fructose (sugar content consisting mostly of fructose)
Fructose is metabolized as sugar -- almost. Fructose does not stimulate insulin production and does not cause the body to increase energy use. This associated with the high levels of obesity which have increased since the widespread use of high fructose sugars.

Artificial saccharides (sweeteners)
Excitotoxins - Aspertaime and MSG.
The effects of aspertaime on autistics is not documented. Mixing excitotoxins with driving or operating heavy machinery is probably risky. So if you stop for Chinese food while you're driving your D-9 Cat, ask for a regular Coke and "no MSG".

More seriously, I noticed a large truckstop chain, when test marketing the sale of Chinese food, prominently displayed "No MSG". Since long haul truckers are typically not more cosmopolitan than urban diners, I was puzzled. Then I realized -- they have to drive long distances, at which time they don't want a "dose" of MSG.

Aspertaime is easy enough to identify -- it is labeled.

MSG is not always properly labeled. Look for items such as "hydrolyzed protein" and "autoized yeast".
Artificial flavours
Artificial food dyes

The upshot of this is that it becomes a lot easier to determine quality in packaged foods.

Become "choosy" about food items which aren't beneficial. If, for example, you don't especially like a type of cake, don't bother eating it just because it's offered.
While general food refusals may be impolite in some circumstances, that generally isn't the case with some items such as (in this example) cakes. In part, it is common for people to decline certain foods, and in part, the refusal of the food does not interfere with the social interaction.

It is of course good manners to avoid making a fuss over declining food. Try to be low-keyed about it, especially in one-off instances.

Try to work out food issues in advance of a dinner. If nothing else, you will be prepared or know what to avoid a particular event.

Eat stuff that is bad for you
One of the problems in improving one's diet is that the bad diet exists because of enjoyable foods. Well, not exactly.

Some foods, (e.g., good chocolate in my case) are really satisfying. ("That would be a wonderful way to end the night, honey, and you're really hot, but can we go out to a Ben and Jerry's first?") But not all junk is the same. The fact that something is lower on your list of "most pleasurable foods" doesn't change its nutrition.

If there's something you don't see as a "must have", and it isn't particular healthy, just skip those particular items. The outgrowth is that it also becomes easier to modulate your consumption of the "really good" junk food.


(stuff that doesn't fit elsewhere)
If you have a child on the autism spectrum, get a pet. More information on pets and kids on the Spectrum

Don't smile for the camera.
If you don't "smile on command" well, don't try to do so when your photo is taken. It does help to think of some pleasant memory.

If you are subject to vasovagal syncope...
If you have a needle or IV phobia, you should memorize the term "vasovagal syncope" and the medical procedures (or at least "TAC"). Information on vasovagal syncope is at

If you need to know something about people that you are "expected" to know, ask a trusted friend.
For example, names of someone's children.

This is linked to pages on relationships and autistics, and relates to the ability of autistics to establish intimate relationships.

social bullying ( socialbullying.html ) is addressed at a separate pages.

The myth of lack of empathy has been used as some sort of justification for abuse of people on the Spectrum

back to Relationships index

First posted 11-Jan-03. Last revised 24 Feb 09.

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