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Using mediation as a person with autism

Jul 16, 2021 | News

family court

As a person with autism, or the parent of a child with autism tackling family disputes, you may have a number of questions about what the mediation process is and whether it is accessible to you. Here, we have answered some initial questions you may have about Autism Spectrum Disorder, mediation itself, and how it can be tailored by all parties to create the most effective environment and outcome for you. Direct Mediation Services is fully inclusive of clients on the spectrum, and our team of mediators are trained to structure the discussions around your needs!

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism is a spectrum condition, and a complex, lifelong developmental disorder that typically manifests during early childhood. The National Autistic Society identifies 1 in 100 people as on the spectrum, with around 700,000 adults and children in the UK currently diagnosed with autism. Although autism typically impacts the way an individual communicates, self-regulates, maintains relationships, and interacts with others, it is important to remember that it is a disorder on a spectrum, has an ever-changing definition as we understand more about the condition, and affects different people in different ways.

In the UK, the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) published by the World Health Organization provides the leading criteria for diagnosing childhood autism. Some early signs may include being non-verbal or the presentation of atypical speech patterns, having difficulty understanding symbolic or figurative communication, difficulty making or keeping friends, restricted or repetitive behavior, movements, activities, and sounds. This list is not exhaustive: autism may manifest in a variety of different ways, at various stages in childhood, and to varying degrees.

What is mediation?

Mediation may seem like a daunting task, and a step into uncharted territory. However, our goal is to help you understand the process, and the numerous benefits it may have for you and your family. We have broken mediation down into four key stages:

  • The first, is the Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). In this, you will have the opportunity to understand how mediation can work best for you and your family. This session can last from 45 minutes – 1 hour, and you will discuss the mediation process, what format of dispute resolution is best suited to you and your family, the benefits of mediation, the anticipate number of sessions, the likely costs of using mediation, and understanding whether you are eligible for publicly funded mediation via Legal Aid. To be eligible for Legal Aid you will need to either be in receipt of passporting benefits such as Universal Credit, or on low income. For further information, you can contact our team.
  • Once you have attended your own MIAM, we will write to the other party to invite them to attend mediation. Should they accept, they will attend their own MIAM. If they are also deemed suitable for mediation, then you will both proceed to joint mediation sessions.
  • At the MIAM, the family mediator will walk you through the various different types of mediation, and which is best suited to you. These formats include: joint mediation; shuttle mediation; and child consultations. To learn more, click here.
  • Next, is the Agreement to Mediate. This is a document which covers how mediation works and outlines the rules of mediation, and will be provided to you in your first Joint Session. Both you and your former partner are required to sign this before starting the session. Please reach out to your mediator during your MIAM to indicate whether you would like to see a copy of the agreement before your joint mediation session, and they will be happy to help!
  • The mediation process is about working with your mediator and ex-partner to find an agreement regarding how you and your family will live post-separation. There is no fixed time frame for mediation, and it can span over a number of sessions depending on the intensity of the conflict and the number of items to address. To benefit most from mediation, you should build an agenda of items that you would like addressed, which can be addressed in your sessions. To learn more about the mediation process, click here.
  • The final outcome: at the end of the family mediation process, your mediator will explain to you the way in which you can seek legal advice regarding any proposals you have agreed to, and how they can become legally binding agreements or court orders. The fundamental core of mediation is that the mediator will never tell you what to do. Instead, they may suggest consulting with another relevant professional, or discuss what options are available to you.
  • If an agreement is not found, your mediator will provide you with a signed certificate that will enable you to begin the court process. Ultimately, the decisions are all yours!
MIAM
unmarried father

Can I go to mediation if I have autism, or an autistic child?

The short answer: yes! Mediation is a voluntary, self-directed, and court-adjacent method of dispute resolution open to all clients. At the MIAM, where you will have the opportunity to discuss your case with an accredited mediator, you can bring to their attention any information relevant to you, your case, or the mediation process. If you have autism then you can discuss this with your mediator and explain any adjustments that need to be put in place for you. During the MIAM, you will be able to voice your concerns regarding the mediation process, and work together with your mediator to resolve these issues.

Over the last two years, most of our lives have moved online: from grocery shopping to family court. Luckily, Direct Mediation Services are years ahead of the game, and our current 100% virtual service  format is equally, if not more accessible. The most popular applications are Zoom and WhatsApp, where we can schedule one-on-one, or even conference calls. The process is exactly the same, and we encourage you to make yourself as comfortable as possible during the meeting – even if it means grabbing a cup of tea! Your child is not required to attend mediation, unless the participants agree that Child Inclusive Mediation is suitable, though this is only in certain circumstances.

How would the mediation process look for a client with autism?

Mediation is never a ‘one size fits all’ approach, and this is no different for participants with autism. There may be a number of family matters and considerations to be made throughout the mediation process, especially regarding navigating relationships, adjustments, and scheduling. While there is no ‘standard approach’ to adjusting the mediation process, the central theme is always to create the most fruitful discussions by ensuring, or facilitating communication between all involved parties. Remember that it is the responsibility of the participants to set the agenda!

Know that you don’t have to navigate stressful family disputes alone: depending on your specific situation, the mediator can assist by providing, in advance, a step-by-step summary of the meeting agenda, following your MIAM. Please reach out to DMS if we can support you with additional information like visual support, spatial details, or more detailed instructions on approaching mediation – should this be of use to you. The meetings may appear structured to ensure that you feel a sense of certainty and support, but will remain flexible with timing and routines to avoid putting you under pressure and providing you time to process. Every individual reacts to sensory stimuli differently, and despite the virtual nature of DMS mediation appointments at the current moment, we can work towards reducing sensory stimuli from our environments to alleviate anxiety that may be triggered by certain images, words, or other visual stimuli. We want to emphasize that as always, participants are in charge of the process while mediators are here to support you and help facilitate the discussions!

lesbian couple

How can DMS mediators create a safe and supportive environment for clients with autism?

Our main goal, through providing mediation services, is to help you arrive at a self-realized decision by guiding you through the considerations and different pathways of action. To help achieve this, our mediators do their utmost to tailor the process to each client’s needs and concerns. For clients on the spectrum facing communication challenges, DMS mediators can be asked to pointedly speak with more clarity. Asking your mediator to ensure that they remain clear, calm, and concise can help the discussion remain on-topic, and help them pointedly avoid distracting forms of communication such as gesturing, figurative language, or tangents. The nature of mediation is to have constant back-and-forth communication, which generally involves plenty of questions. Mediators will make these questions as short and specific as possible, avoiding open-ended questions that may have confusing, and multiple answers. Every individual works at their own pace, and your mediator can lead the discussion as slow, or as fast as you need! If you also habituate actions associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, echolalia or stimming , let your mediator know what stimuli in their environment can be adjusted to make the process easier for you.

What will my mediator expect from me?

The most important aspect of the mediation process is communication – and remembering that it goes both ways! Try to remain as open as possible to conversing with your ex-partner and your mediator regarding your case, but also about how the process has been tailored to suit your needs. Provide them with feedback or suggestions about preferred speaking styles, modes of communication, discussion formats, and necessary supplemental visual aids. Remember to make them aware of these circumstances to the best of your ability. Although it may seem daunting, your mediator will never talk down to you or put you in a position that causes offence or embarrassment. Our goal, through working with you, is to help rather than to judge – in every sense of the word!

family court

Can I bring a support person to my mediation session?

Participants with autism – whether adult or children – may benefit from the presence of a support person  in the mediation process. This is especially useful in cases involving children with autism, as a support person may help the child vocalize their concerns, thoughts, and emotions – especially in cases where there are gaps in communication. While third parties are not typically invited to mediation sessions, exceptions can always be made in these circumstances. A support person can help you express your wishes and feelings, or help you to communicate your thoughts to the mediator and other parties involved. However, this individual may only be present if all involved parties consent to their attendance.

It is preferred that your support person is a third party rather than a family member or friend. However, this does not mean you cannot bring a family member or friend to mediation in certain circumstances. The only requirement is that all participant’s to mediation consent to the presence of the support person and your mediator deems this to be suitable. You can bring a family member or friend to your MIAM, but you will need the consent for the joint sessions.

If you have any questions about this, or would like clarification, you can contact our Autism Champion, Jack, at [email protected].

If you, or your child would benefit from the presence of a support person in the mediation session, please reach out to your mediator in advance of the session and let them know! This will help us ensure that all attending parties consent to the presence of the support advocate.

What if I have different needs?

At DMS, our goal is to create a productive and inclusive environment for all our clients. This means that we want our mediation process to be as tailor-made, self-directed, and accessible as possible. If there are parts of this article that resonate with you, feel free to bring it to the attention of your mediator during your MIAM. This will help all parties adjust the communication structure and style, and make any accommodations to ensure that everyone is on equal footing. However, if you are reading this article and find yourself in a completely different ballpark, that is okay too! This is not a comprehensive guide to making mediation inclusive of clients on the spectrum, thus feel free to bring your specific needs to the attention of the firm.

Conclusion

We want to emphasize that mediation is all about providing you the support needed to arrive at self-directed and self-realized decisions all about your family life. Our role is to facilitate this process by introducing the most relevant forms of mediation to you and opening up channels of multi-directional communication. We want to provide an inclusive environment for participants with autism. DMS highly encourages participants to communicate their needs – regarding the mode of communication, the discussion formats, necessary visual aids, having a support advocate present, or otherwise – to the mediator at any point during the process! Clients with autism, or who have children with autism and are looking for more interest, or looking for answers to additional questions, can contact Direct Mediation Services’ autism champion at [email protected]

 

This blog post was written by Simone Noorali, Candidate for B.A. in Political Science & HSOC at the University of Pennsylvania and Intern at Direct Mediation Services.

Want to known more about family mediation?

You can call Direct Mediation Services on 0113 4689593, email [email protected] or complete the form below for a free call back.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Am I eligible for mediation if I have, or if my child has, autism?

Yes. Direct Mediation Services is fully inclusive of clients on the spectrum, and separated parents of children with autism.

How much does family mediation cost?

For private clients, mediation with Direct Mediation Services costs £120 per person per hour. Each session is charged for an hour. You may qualify for Legal Aid which will mean your mediation is funded by the Legal Aid Agency. Please contact us for further information.

Is it compulsory to let my mediator know that I have autism?

No, you do not need to inform your mediator. Our mediators hope to make the sessions as comfortable and fruitful as possible for you and thus are looking to tailor the sessions to your needs. However, if you would rather not share this information with them, that is ok.

Can I bring a family member to support me at mediation if I have autism?

Participants at mediation may bring a support person where all participants consent to this. It can be better for your support person to be a third party rather than a family member or friend, but this can be accommodated. You should speak to your mediator about this. You can bring a family member or friend to your MIAM. If you would like further information, please contact Jack Bickerton ([email protected]).

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