How #ActuallyAutistic Experiences Shaped the Development of the SEA Bridge Curriculum

by Kat Harhai on November 16, 2021

At Bridges Learning System we create curricula with and for the neurodivergent community. Our development process is rooted in the neurodiversity paradigm and the social model of disability.

We understand that autistic voices must be centered to create a program that is truly beneficial for autistic youth.

Our flagship curriculum has been shaped by a combination of existing research and the lived experience of autistic individuals. Lived experience is an invaluable form of expertise that fills gaps and provides alternative understandings to external observations from non-autistics.

In early 2021, we conducted paid surveys and focus groups to collect feedback from autistic adults that was used to shape the SEA Bridge curriculum. The survey was crafted by autistic, neurodivergent and neurotypical team members, and the focus groups were led by an autistic facilitator. The following is a summary of the feedback we received:

Survey

Respondents:

  • 33 respondents, ages 19-61
  • 55% women, 36% men, 6% prefer not to answer, 3% gender variant
  • 84% White, 12% Hispanic/Latinx, 9% Black or African American, 3% AAPI, 6% American Indian or Alaska Native, 6% other

Findings:

  • It is crucial that youth are actively supported in being their authentic selves (unmasking), rather than being explicitly taught or pressured to hide authentic traits.
  • Autistic youth need more narratives and support people that affirm that their neurotype and way of being.
  • Autistic youth are misunderstood at best or punished at worst for being autistic. There is an enormous need for a paradigm shift among educators and within curricula to better support these students’ needs and affirm their inherent strengths.
  • Supporting autistic students must be paired with dismantling biases and stereotypes held by neurotypical peers.
  • Survey respondents reviewed the list of potential topics to be covered in the curriculum and provided input on if they were important to include. Among the topics identified as most important to include were getting needs met, finding pride in neurodivergent identity, and navigating communication differences.
  • Survey respondents provided additional topics that should be included in the curriculum. Among the topics suggested were understanding body signals and identifying/managing burnout.

Focus Groups

Respondents:

  • 7 participants (in 2 focus groups) ages 20-39
  • 43% women, 43% men, 14% gender variant
  • 85% White (including mixed race individuals), 29% Black or African American, 14% Hispanic/Latinx, 14% American Indian or Alaska Native

Findings:

  • The importance of supporting and creating safety for youth to unmask was affirmed.
  • Participants emphasized the need to help youth identify and build on their neurodivergent strengths.
  • The use of an intersectional lens is crucial.
  • There are specific teaching strategies that are particularly unsupportive to autistic youth. One that was named is the use of role-playing.
  • There are specific teaching strategies that are particularly supportive that should be used; games, stories, and videos were all named in this discussion.

The input shared by these collaborators has informed the SEA Bridge through every step of development. Learn more about the end-product of this collaborative effort here, or schedule a chat with our founder Katrina to hear more about SEA Bridge.

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