Page updated 3rd September 2020
Information about our upcoming autism training for counsellors will be added here. For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
*Note: all references to autism on this site refer to the autistic spectrum, sometimes referred to elsewhere as ASC (autism spectrum condition). This includes Aspergers, which is no longer officially a diagnostic category.
Our research into counsellors’ experiences found that the majority of counselling training did not include any information about autism or working with autistic adults. Our research into autistic people’s experiences of counselling also found that many autistic clients felt that their counsellors did not have an adequate understanding of autism, which led to misunderstandings and poor outcomes. Many counsellors only identify the need for autism training when they encounter an autistic client.
How to identify good autism training
There is a lot of autism training out there from individuals, small organisations, charities and institutions. It can be confusing to figure out what training will be useful and accurately convey autistic people’s experiences. Here are some pointers to help you assess whether a course is likely to be informative and representative (and while we would obviously like you to participate in our own training, we have also included some links to training and trainers we’d recommend at the bottom of this page):
- Is the training course or session led by autistic people?
A lot is and has been said about autistic people by non-autistic parents and professionals. While they are often well-intentioned and can be well-informed, far too often they can miss out on key nuances of the autistic experience, and be unrepresentative or othering. We increasingly expect content about minority groups to at least be co-facilitated or co-created by people from those groups; the same should be true for autistic people. Look for courses run, co-facilitated by, or at least co-created with autistic people. Check that any autistic co-facilitators are treated as equals.
- Is the session representative of a range of autistic experience?
Like any grouping of humans, autistic people are a very diverse bunch, with a great range of experiences, preferences and support needs. Unfortunately, autistic representation in society is still too often limited to a stereotype of nerdy white male children. Check that the course isn’t focused solely on autistic children, unless that is its stated focus, and draws from experiences from autistic people from as diverse a range of ages, genders (not just binary genders), support needs, and other backgrounds as possible.
- Do the trainers have specific expertise in the areas they are covering?
Lived experience is extremely important, but it is also important whenever possible that facilitators have professional expertise in the areas they are covering. This could be through co-facilitation, but there are also many autistic mental health professionals, rights advocates, academics, educators, etc, who contribute not just their own lived experience but also their specific professional expertise.
- Does the session draw on experiences from a number of autistic people?
Again, while one person’s lived experience is important, look for training and courses that are able to talk about a range of autistic experiences. Does the training draw on research or data from autistic contributors? Does it involve a number of autistic people in its design or delivery? Be wary of tokenism or single person perspectives.
- Is the session designed with an awareness of the concept of neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is the idea that there is natural variation in the ways human brains experience and interact with the world, and that neurological differences such as autism and ADHD are a natural part of this variation. This does not mean that neurodivergent people (that is, people with a neurology that diverges substantially from the average) don’t experience challenges, or don’t need support. Instead, it challenges the idea of pathologising human variation purely for experiencing things atypically.
- How is autism talked about?
Does the course talk about autism as an illness? Does it conflate autism and learning disability? Does it use infantilising or othering language when describing autistic people? These could be warning signs that the course does not have an up to date and nuanced understanding of autism.
While there is a lot of good and worthwhile training out there that will not completely fulfil all of the above ideal criteria, hopefully these questions will be useful in assessing the benefits and potential shortcomings when looking at material to increase your understanding of autism.
Courses and trainers
Understanding Autism on FutureLearn, run by Kent University (led by autistic trainers with material co-designed by autistic and non-autistic academics and professionals)
Shona Murphy, autistic autism trainer and parent of autistic children