ASD: SPELL Framework
A useful framework for working with people diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum is SPELL. This is adapted from the National Autistic Society with recommendations for church.
SPELL = Structure, Positive approach and expectations, Empathy, Low Arousal and Links
Structure: keeping a structure and routine can help everyone know what is happening and reduce anxiety. If changes are going to happen, having plenty of advance notice can help them prepare as sudden changes can raise anxiety levels.
In a small group, if you know the venue is changing or skipping a week, it's useful to notify everyone as soon as possible, and then send a reminder on the day. Individuals may also be consistently prompt on arrival and then get agitated if they overstay, so allow them to leave when they need to.
Positive: Try and build on their strengths and abilities. Keep expectations realistic, individuals may be really good at some things, but need more help with others. This takes time as they may avoid new experiences, but positive reinforcement & structure can help lower anxiety.
As for anyone trying a new thing, give individuals time to watch, ask questions and try out what is being asked of them. If it's sharing a testimony, they may find it easier to write it down and have someone read it, or be given an amount of time to talk for. Offer encouragements and notice the little things they have done which contribute to the group to build confidence.
Empathy: Try and see the world from their point of view. This can help develop communication with them and understand what will cause any anxiety or feelings of being unsafe. It can help by talking to them slightly side on so they don't have to make eye contact, but you can both see each other's body language.
Low arousal: try and keep environments calm and with as few distractions as possible. Some can be sensitive to lighting, smells, patterns which can hinder processing what's going on. However some stimulants can help as a comfort.
This may not be possible in all churches and small groups, but it is worth having a quieter room or space for anyone to use if they need.
Links: create links with others that know about ASD or have it. Being part of their community can help raise awareness of the condition and learn more about the individual.
This all stems from getting to know someone, just in a slightly different way. Not many people may have experience of being around someone on the spectrum, and it can be hard to not get frustrated when someone behaves in a way you're not used to. If you know someone with ASD is joining your small group, encourage people to explore the NAS website so that the first experience can be positive for everyone.