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Every young person is different. We need to get to know them to support them effectively.

Understanding some key areas related to autistic people's independence, strengths and support needs is important.

The Diversity Wheel

Autism used to be thought of as a linear spectrum, as represented here:

Less and More

It is now known that autism is more diverse than this. Our knowledge about autism reflects an ongoing dialogue with the autistic community and research that continues to inform our understanding.

The Diversity Wheel is comprised of six areas that contribute to the life of a young person. This was adapted from the 'wheel' by Rebecca Burgess, an autistic cartoonist.

Understanding the Diversity Wheel

The level of support that autistic students may require will depend on the different environments they encounter throughout the day.

In some environments, students may be able to work with a high level of independence, while in others, they will need strategies and supports in place.

But changes within environments will also impact on student needs, such as:

  • who they are with
  • what they are doing
  • what they are feeling
  • the time of day

Watch the Diversity Wheel animation below to see how the different areas relate to each other when thinking about the strengths, support needs and levels of independence of young autistic people in different situations;  

  • at home 
  • at school 
  • in the community 

We acknowledge that many young people will have co-occurring conditions (e.g. autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), intellectual disability, anxiety) and they can impact as well.

The animation demonstrates the following:

  • The outer edge of the circle indicates a young person has strong levels of independence or is able to access supports that enable them to engage safely and independently in that environment.
  • The inner section of the circle indicates that additional strategies and adjustments are needed to support that young person in that particular environment.

Notice how the levels of independence and the need for supports and strategies can change across the areas.

Think about how this could apply to someone you know and support and how different changes can impact them.

In collaboration with our First Nations Reference Group, we've created unique versions of our Diversity Wheel and Planning Tool for First Nations communities. We call these the My Child's Story Circle and My Child's Storyboard. You can access these resources through the link below.

Planning Tool

Our Planning Tool relates to the Diversity Wheel. This tool captures relevant information about a young person, including their strengths and support needs as well as strategies and adjustments.

It is important to also include the young person's strengths. You can complete the Planning Tool with people who support them, including parents, educators and themselves.

The observations and examples column is for you to record exactly what you see or hear the child doing. Examples:

  • how do they communicate?
  • How do they interact with family and peers?
  • How do they best learn new things?

The helpful and unhelpful impacts column is where you can record the impacts of those observations on the child and those around them.

The strategies and adjustments column records what might be in place to support the student and what may help.

The Planning Tool is available for you to access in several languages. Follow the link below to learn more.

Strengths and Interests

All young people have individual strengths, interests and preferences for different activities. Autistic students can be highly focused or passionate about their interests. Strengths and interests can change over time, with some interests lasting only a few weeks and others lasting many years.

Connections to Culture and Community

Connections to community and culture can significantly support well-being and quality of life. Every young person is connected in different ways to the people, places, and cultural contexts that are part of their lives. Think about these connections and how they impact the young person.

Social and Communication

Young autistic people will have varying strengths and support needs in their communication and social skills. These strengths and support needs will vary between people over time and may depend on the context they are in.

Sensory Processing

Sensory processing relates to the way our brain receives, organises and responds to sensory input from the world around us and from our internal body signals. This helps us think and behave in a meaningful and planned manner. Autistic young people may experience sensory information in a range of ways.

Self-Care and Independence Skills

Self-care activities can include dressing, cleaning teeth, eating, showering and other independence related tasks. Many of these activities require a range of different skills including fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, sensory processing and executive functions. Autistic young people may require different levels of support to engage in self-care activities independently.

Executive Functioning Skills

Executive functions are skills performed by our brain that help us to control and manage our thoughts and actions. These include being able to organise and plan, shift attention, be flexible with thinking and self-regulate, which can all have an impact on how a young person copes with daily tasks.


Click on the video to view a webinar recording of how to use the Planning Tool.

To explore more content related to supporting students, click through to our Practical Tools and Information Sheets page.