Team members

The Autistic School Staff Project is organised into three phases, with some changes of team members each time to reflect the different emphases of each phase. Phase 3 project members are Dr Kristen Bottema-Beutel, Dr Laura Crane, Professor Francesca Happé, Dr Anna Gagat-Matula, Dr Damian Milton and Dr Rebecca Wood. You can read about Laura, Francesca and Rebecca, as well as Alan Morrison and Dr Ruth Moyse, further down this page under Phase 2 Team.

Phase 3 Team

Dr Damian Milton

1. What is your current role?

I am a Senior Lecturer in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities at the Tizard Centre, University of Kent.

2. How did you become involved in the Autistic School Staff Project?

I was invited to take part in advising the project.

3. What aspects of the project are you most interested in?

As an autistic academic and lecturer I am interested in the experiences of autistic school staff, the challenges faced and the potential benefits brought to school environments.

4. Why do you think the project is important?

We are not going to build inclusive educational spaces for autistic children and young people if we cannot do so for staff.

5. What are you interests or passions away from work?

My children, music collecting and table tennis.

Dr Anna Gagat-Matula

  1. What is your current role?

I currently hold the position of Adjunct Professor in the Department of Pedagogy and Psychology at the Pedagogical University of Kraków. I am a researcher, and my research focuses on support for autistic people and their families. I am also a member of the diagnostic and therapeutic team for autistic people at the Specialist Clinic for Autistic People.

2. How did you become involved in the ASSP project?

Dr Becky Wood (the project leader) told me about the plans for research related to the project. It was on her initiative that I was invited to take part. I was very happy to be able to bring the Polish perspective to such wonderful and important research.

3. What aspects of the project are you most interested in?

I have experience working with autistic people. I cooperate with numerous organisations and I know autistic teachers. I am in continual contact with them, and I know how important support and acceptance is for them in allowing them to develop in multifarious ways. I am interested in their varied experiences of working in schools, as well as the positive experiences related to autism that they have had in their professional life.

4. Why do you think the project is important?

Research on autistic school staff has not been undertaken in Poland to date. It is innovative and important, as well as useful in the personal development of such staff and their pupils. Through their achievements and competencies, autistic people can serve as role models for pupils.

5. What are your interests or passions away from work?

I love travelling, both near to home and further afield, as well as cinema and the work of Ryszard Kapuściński. However, my most precious moments are when I spend time with my family. I enjoy regular physical activity and have recently spent a great deal of time swimming with my daughter.

Dr Kristen Bottema-Beutel

  1. What is your current role? 

I am an Associate Professor of Special Education in the Lynch School of Education and Human Development at Boston College. I direct the master’s level autism certificate program, which prepares educators to have specific expertise educating autistic students. I am also the chair of the Curriculum and Instruction doctoral program. 

2. How did you become involved in the ASSP project? 

I was invited to this excellent project by Dr. Rebecca Wood, and became familiar with her work through one of her previous books, Inclusive Education for Autistic Children, which I assign in my courses. I am also a huge fan of the rest of the team, all of whom do really amazing and groundbreaking work on autism.

3. What aspects of the project are you most interested in? 

I am interested in understanding how schools can better recruit, accommodate, and retain autistic teachers. We don’t know much about what helps autistic people thrive in their chosen careers, so this project is an important first step. I would also like to understand how students and parents– autistic and non-autistic– perceive having an autistic teacher. Is there stigma involved? Do they understand the potential strengths that autistic teachers might bring to a classroom?

4. Why do you think the project is important? 

At least in the US, many non-autistic people do not consider the possibility of autistic teachers. I think it’s important to show that autistic people are interested in teaching and can become successful teachers if school environments, social structures, and power hierarchies are built to be accommodating. I also think it’s important for autistic children to see autistic people in mentorship roles like teaching. Having an autistic teacher could significantly contribute to autistic students’ positive identities around autism. 

5. What are your interests or passions away from work? 

I like to jog, hike with my husband and three kids, explore coastal New England, read a good book, and binge watch TV.

A favourite spot of Kristen’s: Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park, Maine

Phase 2 Team

Alan Morrison: project consultant

  1. Alan, you’re a teacher. What can you tell me about your job and your experiences of teaching?

My job, as a teacher, has facilitated international travel and employment. It has facilitated a wider, and deeper, view of society and human civilisation. My job makes me very tired, but I am keen to keep going as best I can for a while yet as I find it to be a very fulfilling activity. I am convinced it is better to know who a person is than what their name is; but of course, I may be wrong. I think teaching gives me an honest way to ‘earn my keep’.

2. How did you become involved as a consultant on the ASSP project?

Serendipitous meeting with Becky, a personal quest to accept out-of-my-comfort-zone opportunities and a desire to ‘make things better’ got me involved with this project.

3. What do you think your involvement brings?

I have a school-based perspective which, hopefully, helps translate academic research into practical ‘know how’.

4. Why do you think the project is important?

There’s a lot of lost potential and suffering in schools that could be addressed and reduced. Allow more people to be better placed to use their individual strength, thus making schools better places for all. Maybe this project can do a wee bit to facilitate this.

5. What are your particular interests or passions away from work?

Some of the things in life I like are ‘not having to’, hill-walking, reading books, cycling (motorcycle, push-bike and e-bike), contemplating/meditating & helping folk.

Dr Ruth Moyse: Research Assistant

1. What are your experiences of teaching?
I trained as a primary school teacher and then taught in London, the Middle East and South America. I was always particularly drawn to working with children who did not fit into the standardised pupil box or who were marginalised in some way. Teaching children is a real privilege and a joy. Every day you can be astonished and excited by the steps and discoveries they make. However, the energy and diplomacy required to survive intact in what can be a highly stressful and overwhelming environment, are not insignificant and ultimately led to burnout for me.

2. How did you become involved as the Research Assistant on this project?
Becky asked me to deliver an on-line lecture for her on the methods I used in my PhD research. During my talk I revealed that I originally trained and worked as a teacher, which led her to suggest I apply for the post. My main interest is the education of autistic children and young people, so this much-needed project was an excellent fit for me.

3. What do you think your involvement brings?
Hopefully, when I was conducting interviews, my background as an autistic teacher made it easier for participants to feel at ease with me straight away and feel comfortable discussing issues that were personal to them. Understanding and empathy were givens.

4. Why do you think the project is important?
Whilst schools are accustomed now to having autistic pupils on the roll, and are increasingly aware of how to support them, there seems little recognition that at least one member of staff in a school is also likely to be autistic. Not only does this mean that their performance and well-being may benefit from adjustments to their working day, but that they are well-placed to lead training to better inform their colleagues about autism. This project hopes to shine a light on the barriers to their inclusion and progression at school, and on the many positives of employing autistic staff in schools.

5. What are your particular interests or passions away from work?
My big passion is running, which I started five years ago when I was recovering from cancer treatment and very unfit. I love being able to just step outside my door and go. It’s time on my own, time for me, and I just let my mind roam with my feet. I find it really hard to sit still for long and watching films at home with my family was almost impossible, so I taught myself some basic crochet last year so I could make blankets for people at the same time.

Dr Laura Crane: Co-Investigator

  1. What is your current role at University College London?

I work in UCL’s Centre for Research in Autism and Education (CRAE), which is based in UCL’s Institute of Education. I’m a researcher, and my research focuses on how to support autistic children, young people and adults in education (e.g., how do we make changes to educational practice so that autistic people’s experiences are more positive?). As part of my role, I also supervise a number of wonderful (autistic and non-autistic) research students.  I also lead some courses for postgraduate students who want to learn more about autism research.

2. How did you become involved as a Co-Investigator on the ASSP project?

Dr Becky Wood (the project lead) asked me to review an early draft of a report she had been working on about the experiences of autistic school staff. It was a real pleasure and privilege to be able to contribute to this really important report, albeit in a very small way. Becky told me that she planned to develop this work further. She asked if I’d liked to be involved in applying for funding and, if successful, supporting the project further. I said yes straightaway!

3. Why do you think the project is important?

First, this project will help identify some of the barriers and facilitators to supporting autistic staff in schools. We know this is really important since autistic adults often experience challenges in employment (e.g., due to a lack of reasonable adjustments in the workplace). Second, by supporting autistic school staff, this could have really beneficial effects on autistic pupils (e.g., providing strong autistic role models who can uniquely understand their needs).

4. What are the aspects you are most interested in?

I really appreciate the value of qualitative research – hearing first-hand from those with lived experience of the topic under investigation. From these data, I look forward to learning more about the diversity of autistic school staff’s experiences (e.g., of those in different roles in schools, and at different stages of their careers). I’m also interested in supporting the development of materials to better support autistic staff working in schools, as I think this will have lots of positive impact in the real-world. Indeed, the whole communications strategy of the project is great (e.g., the website, the social media activities) and this will hopefully mean that there is lots of engagement with the project.

5. What are your particular interests or passions away from work?

My family is the most important thing in the world to me, and I love spending time with them. I also really enjoy cooking, and I’ve been taking online cookery classes during lockdown, which have been lots of fun!

Dr Becky Wood: Principal Investigator

1. What is your current role at the University of East London?

My job title is Senior Lecturer in Special Educational Needs. I teach across all levels of undergraduate and postgraduate study in the School of Education and Communities.

2. What were your motivations for starting this research project?

For some years now I have been focussing on the educational inclusion (or otherwise!) of autistic children and young people. As many of us know, this is rather problematic and fraught with difficulties, although there are of course some happy exceptions. As a former teacher myself, this research led me to reflect on the fact that we put a lot of pressure on school staff to enable educational inclusion, but without considering if approaches are inclusive on the level of the workforce. Put simply, a founding principle of the project is that we cannot expect to facilitate diversity amongst pupils if we don’t do the same for school staff. It’s also about basic rights (to accommodations etc.), a principle that is only operating patchily in the school sector in terms of employees.

3. Why do you think this project is important?

This is a significantly under-researched area and so there is a great need for better understanding of the issues impacting on autistic people who work in schools, to learn about the strengths they bring to the profession, and how their well-being and career progression can be supported, for example. Our study so far has revealed a  number of problems e.g. sensory issues, lack of support from management, fear of revealing diagnosis, but also lots of positives too, such as being a role model for autistic pupils.

4. What are you hoping the research will achieve?

That’s quite a big question! To start with, I hope there will be simply a greater awareness of the fact that autistic people work in schools in a range of roles. I would like their needs to be better supported and their strengths to be recognised and valued. I would like more autistic people to be encouraged into the education profession and for the circumstances to be such that they feel able to be open about being autistic. Ultimately, I would like the presence of more autistic people in schools to contribute to a change of ethos and to make them more inclusive overall.

5. What are your particular interests or passions away from work?

I have  many! I am a big fan of the arts generally. I love going to galleries and looking at art, listening to music of pretty much all types, and I have had a lifelong passion for dance. On a daily basis I really enjoy walking and do a lot of countryside rambling with our dog Patti, and I also like to read. I also very much enjoy writing too, even though it can be a head-ache sometimes!

Professor Francesca Happé: Co-Investigator

  1. Francesca, what is your current role at King’s College London?

I’m currently Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Social, Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry Centre Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London.

I lead the ReSpect LabGroup: and am lucky enough to work with a fantastic set of PhD students and collaborators. Some of our work focuses on mental health and wellbeing in autism, and we are particularly interested in under-researched groups on the spectrum, including women and the elderly.

  1. How did you become involved as a Co-Investigator on this project?

I was fortunate to be mentor to Dr Becky Wood for her ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship, so I heard about Becky’s plans around autistic teachers very early on and was delighted to become part of the ASSP.

  1. Why do you think the project is important?

I’m convinced by Becky’s argument that truly inclusive schools must be appreciative of autistic staff, just as they are welcoming to autistic pupils. Raising awareness of the benefits of diversity in the classroom and staffroom is also important to increase employment opportunities for autistic people – and we know that employment can be so influential in terms of mental health.

  1. What are the aspects you are most interested in?

All aspects of the project interest me, but I am particularly looking forward to finding out how non-autistic school staff can learn from autistic teachers and TAs.

  1. What are your particular interests or passions away from work?

I enjoy making things, but rather than subject anyone to pictures of things I’ve made, I’ll offer a photo [attached] of our cat, Pushka, who is a big part of my life during lockdown, as I am the person working closest to the back door, so have become her doorman/butler!