Practical tips for Supporting Autistic players at your Table

I was recently asked by someone for some advice on helping their autistic son succeed in an improv group, and what the teacher could do to help make the group better for the youth. I gave them a list of advice on what's worked really well for my autism social D&D groups, which in many ways, mirror an improv group, and I hope that this list is helpful for anyone who has an autistic player that they want to help feel welcome and supported. This list is by no means exhaustive, but has been very useful in creating an inclusive game where a diverse group of neurodivergent youth can succeed and have a great time.

-Identify what social scenarios are likely to occur. This can range from giving them a heads up that there's going to be some tense roleplaying scenes to pretty heavy spoilers so they can have time to reflect on what their character will do. Sometimes, it's really helpful to even talk them through that, for example, "Your character is going to be accused to stealing the crown. How do you think they'd react to that? Would they be angry, or just laugh? Does that make sense?" Doing so helps them prepare for the role playing scene and can help prevent freeze ups or feelings like they didn't roleplay well enough. It can also help promote perspective taking by having that conversation of 'What would my character do' before hand.

-Identify that it's okay to take breaks. My co-facilitator, even when she's DMing, will call for a 5 minute break in the middle of our sessions sometimes. Despite them being an hour and a half long, she is identifying that she's feeling a little overstimulated and needs to step away. This is an excellent way to model that it's okay to take breaks as needed, and there's no shame in it. AND THERE SHOULD BE NO SHAME IN IT! Don't roll your eyes, complain, or make mean jokes, as your players are looking to you to set the inclusive table culture. Set those norms and enforce them.

-On that note, overtly request accommodation. Identifying what you need to succeed can be really important, and models and normalizes asking for accommodation to be successful. Sometimes this may mean cell phones at the table, people being able to take music breaks, or even having conversations about noise levels with youth who are more sensory seeking and may get really loud at the table. Being able to come up with solutions where everyone feels respected is incredibly important.

-Having conversations about identifying stress levels and breaks. Helping youth identify when they're getting overstimulated and encouraging them to take breaks or self regulate as needed can be very helpful. In turn, don't shame someone for needing to take a break- If possible, keep the game going without them, or take a break if they're important. Having a conversation about what their character might do while they're away can be helpful here, as it means that them taking care of their own needs isn't inconveniencing the rest of the group.

-Identifying a buddy. This may be something you intentionally do, or something that happens organically, but having a friend who can support them with whatever their needs are can be really helpful. This might mean someone who understands the rules better and can help them with their character sheets or understanding spells, or someone who they feel comfortable communicating with in case they are having a hard time expressing themselves.

-Clear indication around when they are in the spotlight, with multiple different ways to engage. Some youth may really struggle with role playing, but giving them options to do more skill based activities, etc, may be a good way to help them feel included and useful. Crafting encounters that let them be in the spotlight in a way that meets them where they're at but still advances the plot can be incredibly helpful, as everyone wants to feel like they've been helpful.

-Clear rules and codes of conduct. This includes identifying norms, the schedule, routines, and what is not permitted at the table. Being very concrete about table norms can be very helpful, as any ambiguity can be difficult. This also includes being clear about safety tools.

-Be aware of sensory needs. This may include allowing for a seating chart, dimming the lights, asking that players who stack dice do so on a quiet surface, phones stay silent, etc.

-Finally, creating an atmosphere that celebrates autism and intentionally fights against shame. Educate yourself on autism and ways you can support the autism community and center the autistic experience without pushing trauma and tragedy narratives that are pushed by the plethora of neurotypical run autism groups. Instead, create a culture that fosters autistic joy, and make that a key part of your group, because that's how true inclusion happens.

Again, this list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it helps you if you want to run an inclusive and kind group for your autistic players. If you have feedback, as always, reach out to me at @rollforkindness on twitter.