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Ideas for Building Autism Acceptance in the Classroom

Teacher talking with small group of students

At a Glance

Emphasis on the importance of recognizing social norms not penalizing harmless Autistic behaviors to promote an environment of acceptance and understanding.

Suggestions to create inclusive social opportunities that allow Autistic students to engage with peers on their own terms, helping all students learn about diverse ways of communication.

Teaching about neurological diversity and brain difference variations as well as normalizing accommodations for everyone.

Welcome back to our Autism Acceptance in the Classroom series, where we are talking about ways to promote and build Autistic acceptance both as part of the month of April and as a year round, ongoing mission. 

In part 1 we talked about some foundational values on which we can work on finding best practices for building acceptance, and in part 2 we are going to talk about some broad ideas you can begin to implement in day to day teaching to help instill an atmosphere of acceptance. 

While we will take a look at more specific activities later in this series, these ideas serve more as guideposts that can help to inform different types of decisions around what to do in the classroom. So let’s dive right in!

Don’t punish harmless behavior!

We promise this is the only “don’t” in this article, but we’re including it because it’s incredibly important! It’s also a concept that even if we know in principle to be true it’s still important to check ourselves from time to time to make sure we are not doing it without intending to. 

Punishing harmless behavior can be upsetting and frustrating for Autistic students, but it can also send the message to non-Autistic students that those kinds of differences are a bad thing. 

It’s important to consider when we are about to highlight the behavior of an Autistic student as needing to be corrected, whether there is a direct harm that needs to be addressed and whether it needs to be called out in front of other students or could be handled in a different way. 

Create social opportunities.

One common challenge faced by many Autistic students is having fewer social opportunities than their peers. Not only can this reality be socially isolating for Autistic students, it limits chances for Allistic students to better understand their peers and learn about differences in communication. 

While it is true that we should respect the wishes of an Autistic student who does not wish to socialize, it is crucial to not assume that this is the choice every Autistic student would make and to take active steps to enable different types of social interaction. This could include breaking off into groups within the classroom in a non-work context to discuss a topic (also a great opportunity to give Autistic students a context to talk about their favorite topics!), or adjusting scheduling to ensure Autistic students have the chance to participate in school-wide events. 

Don’t worry so much about telling Autistic students how to socialize in these contexts - the important thing is that it’s a chance to practice navigating those situations on their own terms and for everyone involved to practice both learning about communication differences and how to genuinely meet each other halfway rather that just expect Autistic students to adhere to allistic norms.

Teach about brain differences.

One unfortunate reality of the current education system is that in many schools there isn’t a strong imperative to teach Allistic or neurotypical students about all of the ways that brains can be different across different people. In the absence of facts, Allistic students are at risk of buying into common myths and misconceptions about not just Autistic students but other neurodivergent students too. 

Although it might not always seem this way, students do take cues from the adults in their lives and if nobody is talking about brain differences or taking the time to explain how differences between brains is a completely normal and wonderful part of the human experience, it instead becomes something novel and unusual and subject to the type of speculation that can be genuinely harmful to neurodivergent people. 

Taking the time to explain brain differences, whether in one lesson or incorporated into many different lessons, can make all the difference in building an accepting classroom and school environment.

Normalize accommodations for Autistic AND Allistic students.

On the surface this advice can seem somewhat counterintuitive to some people. The idea of offering an accommodation to someone who doesn’t have a documented need for it just seems wrong and even disrespectful to the people who do need them. But we hope we can reframe your thinking on this topic! 

It is true that some accommodations might have limited availability and should go to people with the greatest documented need, but so many accommodations don’t face that kind of limitation, and if it helps someone to better get their work done or pursue their goals then why wouldn’t we want them to have that tool? 

More importantly in the context of Autism acceptance, when accommodations are framed as just another useful tool, people who do have need an accommodation on the basis of a disability are less likely to be singled out as unusual or getting “special treatment.” 

Paradoxically, the more we gatekeep accommodations for those who really need it, the more scrutinized those who need it will feel when someone decides that they need more proof that a particular need is indeed “valid.” So let’s normalize accommodations and not force Autistic students to feel singled out and different just because they need one!


We hope these ideas will spark some thoughts as to how you can work on building acceptance within your school, classroom, and curriculum. 

If you have some ideas on how to build acceptance or stories you wish to share then we would love to hear from you! Just drop us a line at and we will be back next week with some Autism acceptance activities that are great for the month of April.

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Next article 5 Core Values for Autistic Acceptance in the Classroom

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