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Unexpected Lessons from a Weird Year

Updated: Dec 16, 2022

We all had trouble with the disruptions caused by the pandemic. We know that many children—neurotypical children included—regressed academically and socially; we know that many teens and adults experienced negative changes to their mental health. Even with all that, there have been upsides, and we are now at a place where we can make things better moving forward.

Many people in the autistic community have expressed relief about how things have changed. Many have flourished with a decrease in sensory overload. Staying at home has allowed people to control their environment, providing a sense of calm and safety that wasn’t present before.

Some of the things put in place in early 2020 (curbside/grocery pick-up, telehealth appointments, virtual social events, remote working) were preferred by autistic individuals. Most are still available in some form, but if these options should end, we will need to find ways to support the autistic community so that they can maintain that sense of calm and safety.

While there is an urge to make things go back to “normal,” we have to ask ourselves, WHY? The “normal” world before the pandemic was not autism-friendly; many autistic people—children and adults—were expected to adjust their behavior so they could fit in. Maybe we need to use this unprecedented time to spur changes. Yes, there need to be changes at a higher, societal level, but as individuals, we each have the power to make changes that can make life better for the autistic community.

Let’s plan to make those changes NOW!

As a teacher, what changes can you make to your classroom to support autistic students?

  • Utilize Structured Teaching

    • Use daily visual schedules

    • Set up the classroom in an organized and structured way

    • Use work systems

    • Learn more here:

  • Support each student’s Preferred Mode of Communication

    • Respect and honor a student’s preferred way to communicate, whether they are speaking or nonspeaking, whether they use something high-tech (such as a tablet) or something no- or low-tech (such as a letter board).

    • If a student is nonspeaking and uses a device (or other AAC) to communicate, that device should be present AT ALL TIMES and should be used in all aspects of the classroom.


    • Learn more here:

  • Provide sensory support

    • Autistic individuals find sensory regulation in a variety of ways, and some students learn best when they have access to sensory input throughout their school day.

    • Ensure that your classroom is sensory-friendly—dim the lights, keep background noise to a minimum, avoiding wearing scented lotions/fragrances, keep the environment free of clutter/other visual distractions, provide a calming area.

    • Learn more here:

  • Support social emotional learning

    • It is normal for all kids to sometimes become emotionally dyregulated! Some kids will need more support when it comes to figuring out what they are feeling and what they can do about it.

    • Using visual supports or a social emotional curriculum, such as The Zones of Regulation, is a good way to introduce the concept and provide guidance throughout the day.

    • Learn more here: ;

As an employer, what changes can you make to your workplace to support autistic employees?

  • Offer working from home as an option—either full-time or hybrid

  • Have a sensory-friendly workspace available

    • Dimmer lighting

    • Soundproofing or have headphones available

    • A quiet area for employees to get away from distractions

  • Offer flexibility in work hours or schedule

    • Focus on the tasks to be completed rather than the number of hours worked

    • If an employee works better with a late start, support that!

  • Offer and support different communication options, even for meetings

    • If someone has trouble communicating with others face-to-face, allow them to communicate via email, chat/instant messaging (Slack, for example), or another way

  • Learn more here:

As a citizen, what can you do out in the community to support autistic individuals from day to day?

  • Educate yourself

    • There is nothing more valuable than learning from the autistic community

      • Read books, articles, and blogs by autistic writers

      • Listen to a podcast by an autistic person

      • Follow an autistic artist or influencer on social media

    • Ask questions

    • Be open to having your perception changed

  • Offer support instead of judgement

    • Don’t make assumptions about why a person is behaving a certain way—they might be experiencing sensory dysregulation and need understanding rather than judgement

  • Learn more here:

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