When Autistic Students are LGBTQ2+

What educators should know

by: Wendy McGuireDori Zener

Education Canada web exclusive April 24, 2019

People with autism are far more likely than the general population to have non-conventional gender identities and sexual orientations. Here’s how [teachers and school administrators] can support them.

Note: This piece uses both person-first and identity-first language to reflect the different ways that autistic people like to be identified.

Educators are more aware than ever of the need for inclusion for students on the autism spectrum. They are also learning how to build LGBTQ2+ inclusive classrooms. But are they aware of the intersection between autism and sexual and gender diversity? Research shows that autistic people are far more likely than the general population to have non-conventional gender identities and sexual orientations.1 Yet most media representations of autistic people fail to reflect this sexual and gender diversity, leaving many service providers, professionals and family members unaware of these intersections. What do teachers need to know about autistic LGBTQ2+ teens, and what can they do?

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What is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is a term that comes from the disability rights movement in the 1990s to describe a range of differences in brain function, learning and mental health as authentic and valued forms of human diversity.

Neurodiversity (ND), sometimes also called neurodivergence or neuroatypicality, is an umbrella term which includes Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Asperger’s, Tourettes Syndrome, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, dyscalculia and may include Bipolar Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder, Schizophrenia, and more. 

Neurotypicals (NT), sometimes called “allistic” or “nypical”, are defined by the neurodiverse community as individuals who do not have a neurological difference or disability.

Neurodiversity activists reject searches for a cure for autism (ASD) and seek acceptance and inclusion without being forced to comply with neurotypical norms of communication and behaviour. 

The terms neurodiverse and neurotypical, which came primarily from the autism rights movement, have been widely adopted by the medical and scientific community.