Tips for leading a discussion group for people with autism and intellectual disability

Tips for leading a discussion group for people with autism and intellectual disability

Anonymous contributor
Resource by Taylor Harrington and Clara King Adapted with permission from authors
● Discussion groups are a great small group / less intimating environment for the individual to get to know other members. Spending some time on simple ice-breaker / get-to-know-you activities at the start of each discussion may help build relationships between all group members. One activity example could include the skittles game, where each group member has to pick a skittle, and share a fact about themselves depending on the colour of the skittle (for example, red = favourite type of food).

● Prior to discussion group, look through the discussion questions and note any questions that contain complicated phrases, or are particularly abstract. You may wish to add definitions of tricky words or phrases, re-word some questions to make them easier to understand, add some simple comprehension questions / memory questions from the talk, or print an easy-read / easy-english version of the bible passage.

(See below for further information on easy read).

● If the group requires members to remember what was covered in the talk or previous weeks, spend time at the start of the group summarising the main idea of the talk/last week's discussion group.

● Use visuals and multimedia to convey information regarding the study. 

● Identify each member's gifts, strengths and talents and offer them opportunities to use them. For example, if they like to take notes, getting them to be the designated scribe.

● Add movement, variety and regular breaks into the group, rather than just sitting and talking for the full 40ish minutes (such as getting members up to draw on the whiteboard, creating an illustration or diagram of the passage together, having toilet / water breaks).

● Provide regular encouragement for participation. Encourage and provide opportunity for everyone in the group to contribute, so each individual has a chance to participate.

● Promote awareness and inclusiveness among members in your discussion group, to help create an inclusive social environment where each member is valued and loved, and knows they are a valuable member of God's family. This may include having a gospel-framed discussion about disability with your group, and promoting practical ways your group can show love to each other.

● For members who may have sensory processing difficulties, ask families about what strategies are effective and implement them in your group (for example, a member who dislikes loud noises may choose to wear headphones during the group).
Read On: More tips on writing a talk for people with intellectual disabilities >


What is easy read?
Easy read English helps to make information accessible for people who might find understanding written text difficult, such as those with an intellectual disability, non-English speaking background, have low literacy levels, etc.

Use large text in an easy-to-read font on a high contrast, uncluttered background.

By providing questions, bible passages, information notes and PowerPoint slides in easy read, leaders can help a person with an intellectual disability to participate in all aspects of discussion group, and independently understand and learn about their faith.

How to adapt a bible study / information sheet / discussion group questions to easy read:

● Use a larger font size (at least size 14)
● Choose only 1 or 2 easy to read fonts
● 1.5 or 2-point line spacing
● Use clear headings and subheadings to divide ideas
● Use short, simple sentences
● Include only one idea per sentence
● Avoid sentences or paragraphs going over 2 pages
● Use plain language (if there is not an easy way to express a certain term, highlight it, and provide a definition)
● Avoid technical jargon, abbreviations, and complex punctuation
● Use images to support ideas
● Use the actual number rather than the word (e.g. '7' not 'seven')
Taylor Harrington and Clara Kang created this resource as part of a community project facilitated by 4th year Bachelor of Applied Science (Occupational Therapy) students at the University of Sydney.