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Is It Really That Difficult to Understand Autistic Students?

After spending the past five years in the world of behavior and education, I’ve come across a lot of adults who say they don’t understand the way Autistic brains function. “Some people ‘get’ it, and some people don’t,” they say.

It has been likened to not speaking the same language as the student. Without speaking the same language, the teacher can’t understand what the student is asking for, and the student doesn’t know how to make their request in any other way.

And every time I hear about this happening (or see it), I just think, “But how do you not get it?”

I understand that every child is different. They all express themselves in unique ways, and they all need specific accommodations from their teachers. I completely understand that.


Is it really that difficult to know what they need? If you really look at them–really see who they are–is it truly that difficult to decipher what they’re trying to tell you?

For example, most of us, as educators, know that Autistic students prefer to have set routines throughout their days. This isn’t because they want to have everything their own particular way. It isn’t because they’re demanding or stubborn. It’s because knowing their routine allows them to mentally and emotionally prepare for the day. It’s a way of reserving their emotional energy as long as possible so they can use it when they truly need it.

In the same way that most adults feel panicked and overwhelmed when they get a sudden bill they weren’t expecting, Autistic students feel the panicked and overwhelmed when an unexpected task is thrown into their routine.

Are they trying to be divas? Not anymore than you’re trying to be a diva by wishing for your bills to stay the same every month.

Are we (as adults) hindering their progress by refusing to expose them to spontaneous frustration? No. We’re not preventing them from all spontaneous frustration. (Goodness knows they’ll have a hundred other opportunities to be overwhelmed throughout the day.) We’re simply reducing the number of occurrences. That’s a help, not a hindrance.

Is it really that confusing when an Autistic student–who usually moves through their routine seamlessly–is suddenly throwing themselves on the floor, screaming? Is it that hard to understand?

Look around. Search for what they’re telling you.

Do they usually write with a green pencil, but someone else took it today?
Do they usually wash their hands after recess, but you asked them to sit at the table this time instead?
Are the lights usually on but today they were off?
Maybe their shirt got wet, or their sock keeps slipping off inside their shoe, or they didn’t get enough breakfast.

What’s different about their day?

We can’t control every element of a child’s day, but we can take the time to evaluate what they might be experiencing when things *aren’t* in control. We can also approach them with calmness instead of matching the chaos they’re feeling.

Is it really so difficult to understand that chasing them around the room or using a panicked voice would increase their feelings of overwhelm? Is it truly confusing that they would be more likely to calm down if we sat in one spot and waited for them while offering calm support?

How do you want to be treated when you feel stressed out?

Autistic brains are often more structured in thought process, but how is that more confusing to the rest of us?

Step inside the rules of their brain, and you’ll find that it’s actually quite simple to understand what they want, what they’re trying to say, and how you can help them. Autistic students make so much more sense that our neurotypical students.

How are we not getting this?

Is It Really That Difficult to Understand Autistic Students?

W. R. Cummings

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APA Reference
Cummings, W. (2020). Is It Really That Difficult to Understand Autistic Students?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 3, 2020, from


Last updated: 23 Feb 2020
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