I Am an Educator

Being an educator of Autistic students

If you’re an educator, you’ve likely already taught an Autistic person. And if not, then you’re likely to very soon! And if you’re here, reading this page, chances are that you would like to know a little bit more about how to support your Autistic students to thrive in your classroom. So, thank you!

We appreciate you being part of the change, for wanting the very best for the Autistic students in your care, for being so invested in the wellbeing of your students that you are willing to search out new information to make their educational journey more fulfilling. We can’t support our Autistic community across the lifespan without people like you: committed, empathetic and curious!

Every student you have ever taught – and will ever teach – has a unique presentation of strengths and challenges, across social, emotional, intellectual and academic domains. Your Autistic students are exactly the same. They come to you with a unique profile of strengths and challenges, and although those strengths and challenges might seem quite different to your non-autistic students’, the principles you employ to utilise strengths to overcome challenges remains the same.

One thing that all students need in order to learn, is to feel safe. For Autistic students, feeling safe in your classroom might take a lot more conscious and concerted effort on your part. On this page we consider some of the core ways for you to foster a welcoming and safe learning environment for your Autistic students.

Learning about Autism is an important step to providing great support to Autistic students

A female teacher with long red hair is pointing at an open notebook that sits in front of her student. Her student is a young girl of colour with her hair in a bun. She is holding a pen and looking attentively at her teacher.

Beyond formal education

The best way to educate yourself about Autism is not through University postgraduate study or textbooks, but by listening to Autistic voices and testimonies directly.  Autistic people are the pre-eminent experts in Autism and we can provide insights into what your students might be experiencing, and how best to support, respect and teach them. We understand what it feels like to be Autistic, what challenges we face, and what strengths we might bring to mitigate those challenges in the classroom, on the playground, and beyond.

So, it’s lucky that you’re here! Because a good place to begin is right here, on this site. We have many workshops, courses, free articles, and resources, the vast majority of which are Autistic-produced, delivered and led. You might like to start by learning more About Autism, or you might like to read some articles about specific challenges that your Autistic students might be facing, such as sensory issues, communication differences, or social differences.

We know from research that Autistic learners face many challenges in accessing school environments, including sensory, demand, intellectual, and social and emotional overwhelm. We also know from research that many teachers just don’t feel equipped or knowledgeable about how best to support their Autistic students, even though they desperately want to. If that’s you, you’re certainly not alone.

The more you learn from the Autistic community, the more empowered you will be to make informed, respectful and relevant decisions to support your Autistic students, and to help them to thrive educationally. The more you learn, the less likely you are to inadvertently “do harm” through misunderstanding, invalidating, or exacerbating your Autistic students’ needs and challenges.

A female teacher with long dark hair is smiling and clapping her hands together. She is with two infants, in front of a table with infant toys on it.

Neuro-affirming education

Neuro-affirming education is that which doesn’t just include Autistic students, it’s education that actively welcomes and values Autistic contributions in the classroom. It is the type of education where students feel that their neurotype is understood, and is grounded in safe, respectful relationships with teachers and peers alike. Autistic children can thrive and flourish in schools, when they experience neuro-affirming education. Here are some first steps you can take as a teacher to establish a neuro-affirming classroom:  

  • Attend to the sensory environment. Autistic students are likely to have heightened sensory needs, and will feel sensory overwhelm much more easily than their peers. That means if it is too loud, too visually busy, too smelly (even with “nice” smells), or too tactile (think, brushing against other students), they’re much less likely to be able to attend to learning.
  • Encourage stimming. Similarly, some Autistic students will seek movement and will “stim” (engage in self-stimulatory behaviours) to help them to process information, to self-regulate, and to manage elements of overwhelm. Encouraging stimming and modelling it (e.g., using a fidget toy while you’re concentrating) will likely not only help your Autistic students to learn, but equally all of your students regardless of neurotype.
  • Try UDL. Universal Design for Learning is a set of principles or guidelines that allows students to access information in different ways, engage with information in different ways, and demonstrate their knowledge and skills attainment in different ways. It can help you to differentiate the curriculum and ensure that the processing style and learning differences of your Autistic students are catered for.
  • Be interested in your students’ passions. One of the best ways to develop a genuine, trusting relationship with your Autistic student is to show a real interest in their interests. Let them teach you! Even inviting them to share about their passions for five minutes at the beginning or end of the day, or at lunchtime, will make an enormous difference to their feeling of worth in your classroom.
  • Answer the why. Many Autistic students struggle to understand the relevance of many elements of the curriculum. And they are much less likely than their neurotypical peers to simply accept the need to learn “irrelevant” information. Providing a rationale for what you’re teaching (and why they should learn it) can be really powerful!
  • Presume competence. All students deserve the presumption of competence, which is the least dangerous assumption. Presuming competence means that you presume that a child can, rather than assuming they can’t. It means you don’t put a ceiling on their potential, so that you can offer than limitless opportunities to grow, learn, and participate.
  • Communicate Autistically. Autistic communication is often literal, straight-forward, and honest. Your students will appreciate your commitment to using literal language (rather than slang, idiom, and metaphor), which will take away one potential cause of miscommunication.
  • Offer breaks. Breaks are needed when they’re needed. Often, this isn’t at the mandated or scheduled break time, or when it’s convenient. That doesn’t make breaks any less necessary whenever they’re indicated. Definitely schedule lots of brain, body and movement breaks in your classroom timetable, but be attentive to the possibility that an Autistic student may well need a break in addition to, or outside of, these scheduled breaks. Giving our kids breaks when they’re needed will lessen their overwhelm, and increase their self-regulation (and learning potential!).
  • Continue accommodations. Often, when an accommodation works for an Autistic child, teachers are tempted to discontinue it. But if an accommodation is working – if it is promoting your Autistic student’s feeling of safety and welcome – it is definitely something you should continue. Don’t be tempted to fade supports when they’re doing what they should!
A man of colour sits on a stool wearing professional attire. He is in front of his classroom of young students, sitting on the floor. One student, a young Asian girl, is standing next to him and smiling.

An ethics of care

All of the above suggestions are underpinned by the principles of an ethics of care, as described by Nel Noddings (1984). Noddings argued that effective teachers should enact an ethics of care, by which she meant a deep, genuine connection and relationship grounded in care for self, students, and others. This care is not an obligation, but is seen as a personal responsibility, with the empowerment of students at its heart. Teachers who ascribe to an ethics of care commit to being and doing with their students. They validate, respect and accept their students’ needs, insights, and feelings, and these are considered valid, relevant and valued. Student involvement is thus paramount.

We believe that adopting an ethics of care is a vital way to frame teaching so that Autistic learners’ needs can be met, behaviours be understood, and they can experience welcome and inclusion in schools.

A young man wearing a plaid shirt is with a group of children. He is holding a notebook and pointing at it, and the children are smiling at the notebook.

How you talk about Autism

As an educator, you will already appreciate the how the use of language shapes our understanding of a topic. Using affirming language has real world implications for how all students understand Autism, and, importantly, for how your Autistic students think about themselves.

Generally, the Autistic community prefers identity-first language (“I am Autistic”) to person-first language (“I am a person with Autism”). Person-first language reinforces stigma by implying that Autism is a disease or illness. We cannot be separated from our Autism – it is integral to us and fundamental to our identity. At Reframing Autism, we actually capitalise the word “Autistic” because of our connection to this identity.

Functioning labels such as “high functioning” or “low functioning” or indications of severity of Autism are disrespectful, reductive and establish an “us and them” mentality which is not conducive to inclusion. Autism is a spectrum, but it is not a linear spectrum. Functioning is not static – Autistic people, like all other humans, have moments of being better equipped to self-regulate, and moments where they may be distressed. The use of functioning labels can be detrimental to Autistic people because individuals dubbed as “high functioning” are often denied supports and accommodations due to their ability to mask their needs, whereas those deemed “low functioning” are denied agency, dignity, strengths, opportunity and the presumption of competence.

If in doubt, ask your Autistic student what language they prefer.

Watch: Flourishing in Education

Frequently asked questions

Whether you’ve been teaching Autistic students for a long time or just a little while, learning is a lifelong journey for all of us – so naturally, questions are going to arise from time to time! Here, we’ve covered some of the more common questions we’re asked however, we’re always happy to help. Please feel free to send us a message with any queries.

Learn more about Autism and hear from #ActuallyAutistic voices

On-demand learning that may interest you

An Asian mother is sitting with her child. She is holding the child's hands. They are both smiling at the camera.

Professional Development: An Introduction to Teaching Autistic Children


Reframing Autism invites educators and educational support staff to join Dr Melanie Heyworth for an introductory workshop on teaching Autistic children. Very often, Autistic children find schools overwhelming and challenging environments. We will give teachers and other support staff Autistic-endorsed and practical strategies for including Autistic children in your classroom so that everyone, Autistic and non-autistic alike, can thrive.

Overview of content

  • Autistic definition of Autism
  • Overview of respectful language
  • Introduction to the Autistic brain
  • Inclusion in the classroom
  • Autistic needs in classroom
  • Practical steps to support Autistic learners
  • Opportunities to reflect on the implications to your teaching practice

You will also receive

  • A PDF including further reading and resources
  • A professional development certificate will be issued upon completion of the workshop and feedback survey.

Delivery: Online on-demand

Duration: 3 hours 20 minutes

Price: $80

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Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.

The Reframing Autism team would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we have the privilege to learn, work, and grow. Whilst we gather on many different parts of this Country, the RA team walk on the land of the Amangu, Awabakal, Bindjareb, Birpai, Whadjak, Wiradjuri and Yugambeh peoples.

We are committed to honouring the rich culture of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of this Country, and the diversity and learning opportunities with which they provide us. We extend our gratitude and respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and to all Elders past and present, for their wisdom, their resilience, and for helping this Country to heal.

Join us on the journey to reframe how society understands Autism