Practical strategies

Taking the time to get to know the person, what is important to them and for them is key to ensuring they have a positive experience on and off the water.

A person centred approach

Treat everyone as an individual, everyday. It is important to have discussions about what an individual needs in a safe and private environment. People don’t want to stand out so offer reassurance that they will be welcomed and the activity is suitable. If need be, and the person is OK with it, talk to others who know the person well.

A conversation can help you gather helpful information and find out:

  • What people appreciate about the person?
  • What is important to them and for them?
  • How to support the person?

The prompts below are from a sailor’s perspective.

Ask me

  • How I communicate, make choices and learn?
  • What is the best way to give me key information?
  • How you will know I am listening and engaging?
  • How you will know if I need a break?
  • About anything that may impact on my ability to communicate on the water – you may need to tell me about the sounds, the smells, and the activities I can expect
  • What is important to help me plan the day and know what’s next?
  • Whether anything impacts on how I perceive risk?
  • How I experience and feel pain and extremes of temperature?
  • How I see and hear and how this might be affected on the water
  • About my balance, spatial awareness and awareness of where my body is in space?
  • How you will know if I am hungry, thirsty, in pain or not feeling well?
  • About my sensitivity towards touch, taste and smell?

Come up with a plan for me to

  • Get familiar with:
    • the boat and the equipment I will need to wear
    • the controls for steering and the sails
  • Get in and out of the boat, and my mobility and balance once in the boat
  • Avoid dehydration, keep my energy levels up and deal with any noise
  • Prevent stress and anxiety, for your to know if I am becoming over anxious and how you can help

Tips for getting it right

Remember, what works with one person may not work with another, and what works one day may not work the next. Treat everyone as an individual, every day, and ask what the person will find most helpful. But the following tips may help.


  • Speak slowly, calmly and clearly, with light cheerful speech – don’t shout
  • Use my name first - repeat instructions to me without re-wording
  • Check sensitively if I have understood instructions given to a group
  • Simplify language and reduce sentence size.
  • Use language that is clear, precise and concrete
  • Make the end goal or purpose clear but…
  • You may need to give instructions one at a time and break them down
  • Reduce the number of steps needed to achieve success early and add in more steps as my confidence and competence builds
  • Give me time to process information
  • If I am not looking at you, don’t assume I am not listening – don’t insist on eye contact
  • Avoid irony and sarcasm
  • Avoid relying on too much body language and facial expression
  • Use visual aids or pictorial cards to back up communication
  • If you use humour don’t forget to smile
  • Offer clear choices

Social interaction

  • Be gentle and kind
  • Be patient
  • Invest in me for the long term – it will take me time to feel secure, develop trust and build rapport with others
  • Don’t assume I can see things from your point of view
  • Don’t assume I am disinterested just by the tone of my voice
  • Give me reassurance and positive feedback
  • Celebrate my strengths and successes
  • Don’t assume you can touch me – let me know it may happen
  • Don’t assume that I will socialise during breaks and unstructured times
  • Flexibility of thought
  • Explain clearly what the plan is for the session / day – use visual support
  • Use visual planning tools and pictorial boards
  • Avoid questions like “What can you do differently next time?” and asking me to imagine possible outcomes
  • Avoid problem solving scenarios – provide specific answers and information
  • Demonstrate one step at a time – break tasks or sessions down
  • Don’t generalise – be specific
  • Allow time –I may need to get familiar with the venue, the boats and sailing clothing first. It may take me days to achieve what others do quickly
  • Try to avoid too many big changes and prepare me for upcoming change
  • Teach skills and concepts in context, in the place where I will be practicing
  • Describe new situations – outline how and why people may react and explain why people may be feeling a certain way
  • Explain the rules and any ‘grey areas’ within the rules

Sensory sensitivities

  • Be aware of my sensory sensitivities and how the boating environment may impact on me – work out what you can change
  • Think of positive sensory experiences and build these into the session, introducing them slowly if needed to give me time to de-sensitise
  • Allow me to use equipment that helps me manage my sensitivities – for example, ear defenders
  • Prepare me for what the sailing environment is going to be like – noises, smells, sights, balance, and body movement.
  • One person talk to me at a time
  • Encourage activities that use movement around the boat
  • Break tasks and activities down into small, manageable steps – use visual clues
  • Control noise from flapping sails, shrouds and engines
  • Use coloured tape to indicate where I need to move to in the boat, or safe places for me to be.
  • Colour co-ordinate ropes and controls
  • Use visual supports to back up verbal information
  • Gently warn me if you are about to touch me

Stress and anxiety

  • Recognise positive behaviours and when I am happy – praise achievements but be aware of generalised praise. What does ‘good job’ mean?
  • Offer tangible evidence of achievements and good work
  • Recognise when stress and anxiety is being communicated
  • Be neutral when dealing with negative behaviours – don’t personalise it
  • Be consistent, stick to the rules you set and provide predictability
  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep
  • Remind people what they should be doing
  • Use problem solving phrases
  • Allow people to have a break

Tools for improving the communication environment

  • Use symbols, pictures, photos, and video to support communication and meaning
  • Sequence information with visual timetables to get across what is going to happen in a particular timeframe or to breakdown the stages on how to complete a task
  • Use portable choice boards to introduce regular opportunities to choose, link cause and effect, establish rapport and develop dialogue
  • Produce social stories™ to introduce a new situation, outline how and why people may react in different situations and explain why people may be feeling a certain way.
  • Use what to expect videos or leaflets beforehand, signs to help new participants find their way around whether they are new to a venue or not, and name badges where people may be anxious around unfamiliar people and where a good rapport is needed quickly

Thank you for reading. Now return to the start of this guide

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