Many people would assume that autistic people cannot be teachers, but trust me there are many autistic teachers out there! (Just have a look at autistic twitter). I have previously worked as a teacher as an autistic woman, so I thought I would share what it’s like from my perspective and experiences.
It can be exhausting
Any teacher will tell you this about their job, but I felt permanently tired. At times it felt like a double layer of masking. One layer was masking my autism and the other was hiding the parts of my neurotypical mask that would not be suitable in a school environment (i.e. The types of conversations I would have with students compared to other adults in the real world). I would come home every day and collapse on my bed for at least 2 hours before I could do anything. I remember once after a very challenging day, I spent the next two days in bed. I haven’t taught since my autism diagnosis, so it may be different if I went back into the classroom openly autistic today.
Teaching about your interests
Ah, this is one of the best parts about being a teacher when you have a lesson that is about one of your main interests! You’re essentially being paid to info dump (that comes second nature to us autistics). Sadly though, not every lesson I taught was related to my interests, but it was certainly a good aspect of the job when teaching those lessons.
My autism and neurodivergence meant I sometimes had different ideas from my boss. I know this can be common in any workplace, but I think the types of disagreements I had was due to how I process information. I wrote a mini-thread about this before on twitter, which is below.
“So I’ve been reading a journal article that claimed autistic people find visual displays in classrooms distracting (from my lived experience I agree with this). When I used to teach TEFL, my boss would always comment on the ‘lack of displays’ in my classroom“
“I remember thinking I had an adequate amount and that anymore would clutter the classroom. I also thought it would be too distracting for my students as I’m remember finding it problematic when I was a child in school……”
“I’m not sure how much of an autism thing this is, but it just got me thinking. It’s also interesting to think back on how my autism influenced my decision making in that job!”
Burn-out and Alexithymia
At one point I was working too much and was teaching 6 days a week with 40+ hours worth of classes (I would not recommend anybody to teach this much in one week) along with endless hours of paperwork. However, being autistic and having alexithymia (difficulties with sometimes labelling emotions) meant that I wasn’t able to recognise when I was working too much. I kept on working without knowing I was experiencing burnout. This led to some serious consequences for my physical health for me to realise that I was burnt out. It took a few months of not working for me to recover. If I knew I was autistic back then, I think I would have asked people close to me who I could trust to point out the signs I was experiencing burn out.
Would I recommend teaching for autistics?
If you have the passion and the drive to work in education, I would say go for it! I have many positive memories of working in education (despite some of the challenges) But there are a few things to consider.
- How accommodating will a school be to your needs as an autistic employee?
- Do you have somebody who can look out for you if you struggle with recognising emotions? (this could be anybody from a family member to a friend or colleague). They can advise you if they think you’re doing too much without realsing.
- Work the number of hours you can manage personally (this will be different for every individual).
If you enjoy my writing or would like to support my online advocacy work, I would be forever grateful if you could buy me a coffee (or tea in my case).