Empower Autism

Before the Engagement

Often the best time to make expectations clear and reduce uncertainty is before a meeting even begins. We have provided three tips and an example of how you can enact some of these changes in the email template below ‘Before the Engagement: A Template’.

1. Providing specific and detailed information to the applicant

Autistic volunteers benefit from having clear expectations and information ahead of time. Think about providing the following information in an e-mail, over the phone or whatever suits when setting up an engagement with a new volunteer.

  • Date and time of the meeting (with an option for alternatives)
  • Visually assisted instructions to the meeting location (e.g., a picture of the building)
  • The name and number of participants attending the meeting
  • Topics to be discussed
  • Questions to be asked (see below on how to prepare questions and make them more accessible!)
  • An opportunity to disclose any possible adjustments
  • Refer to our ‘Before the Engagement: A Template’ at the end of this section.

2. Be flexible with meeting structures

Open-ended questions cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” and require a longer and more detailed response. These questions can be unclear and may be interpreted differently for autistic volunteers and not answered within the original context.

Having alternatives to these questions in literal, concrete or in just a more targeted form can make all the difference. Autism from the Inside discusses the use of open-ended questions in their video ‘Autism Communication Strategies’.

We have provided a brief table below of how to translate potentially problematic questions to autistic affirming versions.

3. Be flexible with meeting structures

Being flexible with meeting structures is important when engaging with autistic volunteers. They may have specific sensory needs and feel more comfortable in certain settings, so offering alternative options can create a more comfortable and collaborative meeting experience. Simply being open to alternatives communicates the flexibility of your volunteering organisation.

Some of these alternative options include:

  • Online (e.g., ZOOM, Microsoft Teams) meetings may be less intimidating and preferable for a range of volunteers
  • Sometimes small group discussions can be less intense than one-on-one meetings and allow for autistic applicants to better contribute and add input to the conversation
  • A structured meeting with a clear agenda, direction of discussion and time-limits can make the meeting expectations clear and predictable

Before the Engagement: A Template

We have provided an example of a template that could be sent to a potential volunteer prior to meeting to discuss a volunteering role.

This template was developed for explanatory purposes, and we encourage you to adopt your own personal flavour and existing questions and processes! How this is communicated (e.g., over the phone, or email) depends on what works best for both parties.


Key Points

  • The more clarity and detail you can provide before an engagement can often help to create a shared understanding and clear path to success!
  • Be willing to slightly adjust your current approach can increase accessibility and open a dialogue to discuss any support needed within a volunteering role.


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