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Key Principles When Supporting Autistic People

The community at Spectrum Gaming released “Key Principles when supporting autistic people” at Barriers to Education.

We believe in REAL coproduction, so have worked with our community to create ‘Our Key Principles When Supporting Autistic Young People’.

We think they are really important, so have made them available for anyone to use/ read/ share.


We highly recommended this resource, including the rest of the site at Barriers to Education.

Key Principles

The following list of 6 principles was coproduced by the community at Spectrum Gaming. Visit their article, “Key Principles when supporting autistic people“, for more on the principles summarized below.

1. Autism Acceptance 

In many spaces and places autism is seen as a negative thing. But Spectrum Gaming proves that autism is not a ‘disorder’ or a ‘burden’, it is simply a difference. Just like every other brain type, the autistic brain has its negatives and its positives. This space offers the chance for young people to realise that and learn to focus on their strengths, rather than be defined by their weaknesses.

We aim to offer a safe space for young people who may not have anywhere else. When young people join our community, they may be struggling because it can be very difficult to be autistic in a world that isn’t made for you. 

Key Principles when supporting autistic people

2. Young people often need to recover from their negative experiences to be able to thrive

Young people need time, and the right support to recover. Especially since outside of Spectrum Gaming, they may still be exposed daily to trauma and stress. We need to be consistent in our support, especially when boundaries are tested to check we are still a safe, nonjudgmental, supportive space.

Key Principles when supporting autistic people

3. Young people do well if they can

We believe that all young people do well if they can. Everyone wants to thrive, do well, and no one wants to cause upset with others or break rules.

If someone is struggling – there is a reason why they are struggling. We can work together to identify reasons why and what may help. 

Key Principles when supporting autistic people

4. Co-regulation

Young people need repeated experiences of co-regulation from a regulated adult before they can begin to self-regulate (this is explained more below).

They may also not know how to regulate by themselves and we may be a key resource to help them create ways that work for them.

Key Principles when supporting autistic people

5. Self-Care

Self care is vital – it isn’t possible to properly care for young people when you are overwhelmed yourself. 

Key Principles when supporting autistic people

6. Neurodiversity affirming practice

We believe in the 5 As of neurodiversity affirming practice, from The Autistic Advocate. This is a strengths and rights-based approach to affirm a young person’s identity, rather than focusing on ‘fixing’ a young person because of their neurotype. 

Key Principles when supporting autistic people

Visit “Key Principles when supporting autistic people” for more on the principles summarized above.

Autism and Trauma

Barriers to Education is a great resource for understanding autism and trauma. The key principles above help heal and avoid trauma.

When something happens which makes us feel unsafe, our brains respond by going into survival mode. Your brain sees something frightening, feels you are in life threatening danger and it must do whatever it can to get you to a sense of safety. 

This is a natural process and it’s there to keep us alive.  If you meet a wild animal, you need to get away fast, and so your brain will prioritise that.  It won’t waste time looking around to check if that animal is really dangerous, it will just tell you to get out of there, now! There’s no time to stop and think. 

The word ‘trauma’ is used to mean several different things.  Sometimes it’s used to mean an actual event – like, we might describe a road traffic accident as ‘a trauma’.  Other times it’s used to describe what happens in our brains during and after an event – more like a ‘traumatic stress response’.  

When a traumatic event happens, our brains go into survival mode – and then, once we are safe again, our brains go back to normal.  We feel safe and calm again, even if the event was really scary.   

However, sometimes things which happen can affect us for years afterwards.  Even when we are safe from whatever made us feel in danger at first, our brains continue to behave as if we are under threat.  That means that you might have the urge to run away, or to fight, or to freeze – when actually there is nothing dangerous. Your survival mode is being triggered and it can feel really frightening.  This is a traumatic stress response. Sometimes that might lead to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Understanding Autism and Trauma 

Further Reading

Dr. Noami Fisher, a familiar name to followers of Stimpunks, is involved with Barriers to Education. Dr. Fisher’s book, “Changing Our Minds: How children can take control of their own learning“, is another highly recommended resource.

At one meeting I attended, one father told us how his eight-year-old son had been declared ineducable, and they had been told that he would have to spend his childhood at a psychiatric day hospital rather than at school. Another told of how his teenage son had hardly left his bedroom for two years, completely refusing to go to school, and had tried to kill himself. One mother told of how her daughter fought each morning not to go to school, scratching and biting them, for over a year.

These children are now members of the self-directed learning community, engaged in a wide range of activities. They are still the same people as before, with the same characteristics, but the pressure has been lifted and so they are able to flourish. Many of these children will have diagnoses. Home-educating parents tell similar stories – children whose behaviour at school was uncontrollable who start to behave differently ethey are allowed to follow their interests and are treated with respect.

Changing Our Minds: How children can take control of their own learning

Something happens when children are in an environment in which they are valued and accepted for who they are. They see themselves as capable and as contributors to their community, and they develop and learn. That’s why the respectful and non-judgemental way that adults relate to children in self-directed environments is important. It doesn’t happen overnight. When you’ve spend years fighting a system, you can’t just forget all the strategies you learnt to survive.

These children are experiencing the shift from a system which sees their personalities as a problem, to one which genuinely accommodates difference. Because when children are really allowed to choose what they do, difference stops being such a problem.

Viewed through the lens of disorder, disruptive behaviour is a symptom. Viewed from a different perspective, it’s a sign that something isn’t right in the world around the child. It’s those children who are considered to be troublemakers, the ‘problem children’, who shine a light into corners which the rest of us might prefer to avoid.

Changing Our Minds: How children can take control of their own learning

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