If you want to develop an effective autism training, ask autistic students to help you


Autistic university students face stigma. Online trainings have been used to improve explicit autism stigma (social distance) and knowledge among university students in different countries. However, autistic university students have not typically been involved in developing such trainings. We developed two autism trainings: a participatory training (developed in collaboration with autistic university students) and a non-participatory training. We evaluated these trainings with undergraduate students in the United States and Lebanon. A pilot study revealed improvements in implicit biases (measured with an Implicit Association Test) and knowledge following both trainings, but no clear benefit of the participatory training in particular. Feedback revealed that participants found the Implicit Association Test tedious, suggesting that it might have dampened effects by boring participants. To increase engagement, we removed the Implicit Association Test and conducted a cross-university training comparison which revealed evidence that the participatory training was more effective than the non-participatory training at improving autism knowledge, explicit stigma, and attitudes toward inclusion. Autistic co-authors coded participant feedback and identified three key themes to guide future training development and adaptation: an (inter)personal element, accessibility, and clarity of information. These studies provide empirical support for the oft-cited, but rarely directed tested, benefits of involving autistic people in research about autism.Lay abstractAutistic university students are often left out because people do not understand autism. We wanted to help people understand autism. Most autism trainings are not made by autistic people. Autistic people know what it is like to be autistic. So autistic people may be the best teachers when it comes to teaching about autism. Autistic students and non-autistic professors made an autism training. The students made videos for the training. They also helped make questions to see what people learned from the trainings. Professors who are not autistic made a training on their own. Students in New York City tried out the trainings. After they answered questions, they did either the training the autistic students helped make or the training made by only professors. Then, they answered questions again. We learned from the students how to make our trainings better. Then, students from two universities in the United States and one university in Lebanon did our trainings and questions. Both trainings made hidden feelings about autism better. The training autistic students helped make taught students more than the training professors made on their own. The autistic-led training also helped students accept autism more. These studies show that autistic students can make autism research and trainings better. At the end of this article, autistic students share their ideas for how to make autism trainings even better in the future.

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