What do I do if I am shown the Devon Autism Alert Card?

On this page:

  • Each Autistic individual will be exactly that - an individual. Be careful about stereotyping.
  • Listen and look at the person on the Autism Person. What are they trying to tell you when they show you the Devon Autism Alert Card?
  • How you can respect the Autism Alert Card being presented by an Autistic person who is calm
  • How you can react to a distressed Autistic person showing you the card
  • What to do if the police or emergency services need to be involved


The Autism Spectrum is individual. There is no ‘one size fits all’.


If you have met one Autistic individual, then you have met one Autistic individual.


Folks on the Autism Spectrum are more individualistic than mainstream folks. This is not often pointed out. In general, Autistic folks don’t usually recognise social or peer group conformity and, if they do, they see it as a curious aberration whilst wondering if it might respond to treatment.

One cardholder might be able to complete the Telegraph crossword in 18 minutes but be overwhelmed by a trip to a supermarket. Another cardholder might be able to discuss the complexities of the growth of Early Christianity but find chatting to more than one person intensely confusing. And these are the lucky ones.

So no one can give blanket advice on ‘how individuals on the Autism Spectrum behave’. We can give pointers about useful choices of behaviour that you, the non-autistic person, have.

There is one question that you need to ask yourself:

What is the cardholder trying to tell you when they give you their Autism Alert Card?


When you are shown the Autism Alert Card there are two possible scenarios you are being told:

  • The cardholder is on the Autism Spectrum AND
  • The Cardholder is distressed, possibly severely so


  • The cardholder is on the Autism Spectrum AND
  • The Cardholder is not yet distressed but might well become so if you do not treat them with respect and communicate with them appropriately.

If Autistic individuals could help their actions, they wouldn’t be Autistic. Remember this. If they are withdrawn, angry, jittery, rude… It’s because they are coping with something going on inside themselves that YOU HAVE NO IDEA ABOUT.

Individuals on the Autism Spectrum are often functioning on a totally different plane from you and quite likely processing 50 times more data in their brain. They would likely enough prefer to control this processing more effectively but it is what it is and it is right before your eyes.

If the Cardholder is not distressed


This section also applies to helping individuals who are distressed

Treat the cardholder with respect. Sometimes this might be difficult, just as the cardholder might find you difficult — but do it.

Recognise that an individual on the Autism Spectrum can:

  • Need time to process information, verbal or written
    Do not wonder why — it is often because they are thinking with far more complexity than you expect
  • Have unusual emotional sensitivity
    Contrary to popular stereotyping, autistic individuals tend to experience emotions much more intensely.
  • Get overloaded with sensory input
    Sight, sound, touch, smell and more can suddenly overwhelm the sensory processing.
  • Be overwhelmed by any kind of conversation
    Small talk is not something that, in general, is understood by folks on the Spectrum - except as a vaguely interesting aberration. Generally a conversation is for a purpose

How can you help the person on the Autistic Spectrum when they are not distressed?


  • DO take responsibility for your own actions and communications.
    That includes responsibility for changing them
  • DO show the same kindness as you expect to receive from others
    Most people are very rarely in position to give or receive extended kindness to or from strangers up close and personal (a coin in a cap is not extended, charity giving is not up close and personal).
    It might not be easy, but you have just been chosen to do it.
  • DO give respect. You have no idea what is going on inside the person
    If individuals on the Autism Spectrum perceive you as being rude or aggressive, they can give it back amplified. They do not want to, they just might not know how to deal with it in another way.
  • DO be flexible.
    Autism is a disability. If you have a ‘no dogs allowed’ rule in your shop, and apply that rule to a guide dog then not only are you probably breaking the law but you are also giving yourself and others grief.
    In the same way, if your company has a policy that they need a person’s name before continuing a conversation, then insisting that this rule be followed to the letter by an Autistic individual is tantamount to abuse. It can deeply distress an autistic individual to be made to do something when they do not understand the reason why.
  • DO speak slowly, softly and calmly
    Lessen the sensory input. Loud voices can be interpreted as anger with bad results.
    But be careful. Some individuals might want to talk fast and complexly and think that if you are speaking slowly you are being patronising.
  • DO avoid eye contact
    Eye contact can be very painful to individuals on the spectrum. They usually have no idea what it means and feel very threatened.
  • DO take note of the text on the back of the card
    You could have communication difficulties with me
    Your behaviour may seem confusing and/or threatening
    You do not understand my thought processes
    I may be frightened, feel threatened and overwhelmed
    My sensory processing is very likely overloaded

It is NOT the Autistic person’s responsibility to change behaviour. That is as lunatic as expecting a wheelchair bound person to carry their wheel chair up some stairs instead of the establishment putting a ramp there.

That’s not to say that behaviour cannot change, and we have every hope and expectation that you, the card’s recipient, will be able to change your behaviours and your presuppositions. It is tough, we understand that, but you have our support.

Is the cardholder distressed?


Take into account everything in the previous section. They apply here too

These are insights that you can follow. If you need to call the police or emergency services, then of course do so.

In stressful situations Autistic individuals often have coping mechanisms and behaviour patterns which might appear strange, very rude or worse to others. These protect them from an experience you do not see and cannot imagine.

If they could be polite they would be. In many situations they are so overwhelmed they cannot.

The goal is to defuse the situation and allow the Autistic individual to feel safe and secure so they can become less agitated and anxious, calmer and more relaxed.

  • DO offer them a calm place away from people and sensory input. Explain that this is for both your benefits.
    They will not have a chance to change their behaviour until they have the chance to calm down in a quiet environment. Remember, they might be afraid, frustrated or confused.
  • DO speak slowly and clearly, not raising your voice and avoid eye contact
    Slow the chat down give them time to absorb the information if necessary.
  • DO allow plenty of time information processing.
    If you are getting quick replies, then do not expect accuracy. The individual is much more likely to be saying anything they can to get out of a stressful situation.
  • DO NOT touch them, unless a life is in danger. If you have to touch them, then tell them exactly what you are going to do and why, and what you are doing as you are doing it
    Many individuals on the Spectrum are hypersensitive to touch and many have had traumatic episodes involving touch. Touching them without permission and without a clear and valid reason can have unfortunate consequences
  • DO ask the individual what they would like to be called and use that exact name. Tell them your own name.
    Do not use another name. If they say their name is Jonathan, do not call them John, Jonny or any other form of Jonathan.
  • DO phone the contacts on the card (tell the cardholder what you are doing)
  • DO phone Dimensions For Living if necessary (again, tell the cardholder what you are doing)
  • DO commentate on what is going on with you.
    You are probably communicating with someone who does not read your facial expressions or body language in the same way that you have grown used to everyone else doing.
    So tell them what you are feeling and thinking clearly and honestly without placing any blame anywhere.
  • DO NOT say ‘I see you are frustrated, hurt, angry…’ or similar.
    That comes across as arrogant and ignorant, unless you are an expert on Autism. Accept you have no idea what is going on. What you are probably seeing is sensory overload which cannot be described in emotional terms and you probably have no experience of.

If the police or emergency services are involved


This is not advice for the police or emergency services. That is in another section here: LINK

  • DO, if you telephone 999, inform the receptionist that the person is Autistic
  • DO tell the cardholder that the police or emergency services and coming, and DO make it clear (if you can) it is because you cannot handle the situation.
    Make it extremely clear that the emergency services are coming to help. Nobody is in any trouble and that they are aware of some of what the individual is experiencing.
  • DO tell ALL responders that the person is Autistic.
    Just telling the first responder is not enough. You do not know if the information has been passed along. Much better that you make sure. It could make a big difference to people’s lives 

You can help the Autism Alert Card


The more people who know about the card and how to respect people on the Autism Spectrum the better, we hope you agree...and we aim to reach more and more people through this scheme.

You can find more here on the creation of the Devon Autism Alert Card scheme, and all those who worked together in the creation of the card.

There are many ways you can help the Devon Autism Alert Card, many of which don't involve money (!) and some that do....so please donate to the card if you can, and help spread the news about the Autism Alert Card