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From Ignorance to Understanding: Your Roadmap to Autism Education (For Therapists)

It is still Autism Awareness Month! Neurodiversity in many forms has become near and dear to my heart as a therapist, and I hope to provide resources for mental health professionals and social workers to learn about Autism Spectrum Disorder. Choosing not to learn about Autism can be a great detriment as it affects sooo many people! Let us not cause more trauma to vulnerable communities by being uninformed.

To be clear, I am not Autistic myself. I do not speak for the community but I hope to support the community by making efforts to help others be informed on Autism.

First: Recognize that You Will Work With Autistic People and Need to Understand Autism

As social workers, we all come from different backgrounds and have different educational strengths and weaknesses. Truly, we could read new books, listen to podcasts, and take continued education classes (CEs) every week and STILL have so much to learn. So when it comes to things we should learn about, the list is endless. Still, I make my case for learning about Autism as follows: It is so common and so poorly understood.

I won't get into details, but I have seen firsthand how a lack of understanding about Autism can hurt individuals and families. A few examples: Some parents get told their kid has Autism, and neither they nor the child get explained fully what it is. Many adults struggle to find someone to assess them as an adult, often told it won't happen. Some mental health workers misunderstand their clients or overdiagnose their clients, giving out advice or recommendations that ultimately hurt Autistic people. This list goes on.

We are likely to encounter someone on the Autism Spectrum in our practice as therapists and social workers. As it is a spectrum, we will see people with a variety of needs including those who are sub-clinical (ie. showing symptoms/signs but not meeting full criteria). If you've gotten this far in reading, I'm excited for you to learn.

Second, Hear about Autism from Autistic Voices as Much as Possible

It's nice to hear from non-Autistic researchers, other professionals, and those who have Autistic loved ones, but no one can really speak for a population they are not a part of. Further, sometimes these people come from the perspective of trying to "help" Autistic people become more neurotypical-presenting, which can be very stressful for Autistic people.

If I had to recommend only one resource, I'd recommend Unmaking Autism: Discovering the New Faces of Neurodiversity by Devon Price, PhD. (Disclosure: This link is an Amazon Associates link. If you chose to buy the book with the link, I get a small part of the profit at no cost to you.) This book has been the most informative resource on Autism I've found so far, and the author is Autistic.

But please don't stop there! Autism is a spectrum and it intersects with race, ethnicity, geographical regions, gender, etc. That is, no one Autistic person can speak for all.

Third, Take Trainings (Free Ones, Paid Ones, Whatever!) and Listen to Podcasts

Research is growing and training opportunities are available if you are willing to find them. No excuses!

Places like PESI offer trainings. Some county mental health departments also offer trainings.

There are also many podcasts on the topic of Autism. For example, the author mentioned earlier is featured on the Two Sides of the Spectrum podcast. The episode is titled, "Unmasking Autism in Action with Dr. Devon Price."

Here are examples of trainings available for free on Youtube.

There are also evidenced-based practices that have a lot of promise. For example, neurofeedback is showing increasingly good data for neurodivergent communities. Of course, always do your research.

Lastly, Be Careful to Do Your Research on the Available Resources and Treatments for Autism

There are well-known interventions and organizations that have received criticism for the Autistic community. Please do your research. For example, research the organization + "criticism" and read some results. You can also call up resources that you hope to refer Autistic clients and vet them out a bit!


I hope this gives you a great start on your journey to becoming more Autism-informed! I pray this does good for this underserved community!

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