Schools can be a really difficult place for autistic people, as they often aren’t set up for how an autistic brain works.
It is important to have people around you who understand you so they can speak up for you and change the environment to meet your needs. Unfortunately not every school has staff who are like this. If you ask for support to meet your needs and the school is not willing to do this, it isn’t your fault.
Whenever I have support from people, I usually put them into one of three categories:
- People who ‘get it’ – People who naturally (or through learning) offer support that works for you.
- People who try, but need more understanding/ guidance – People who may not get everything right, but are open to learning and reflection.
- The poo poo heads – People who don’t understand you or autism and don’t try to. They are often authoritative and lack understanding. I think you are better off avoiding these people!
Having 1s and 2s, but not poos in your life is really important and helpful.
There are tons of autistic young people who have recognised that school wasn’t the right place for them, and they now thrive outside of a school setting. I personally made it through school, but it took years to recover from the difficult experiences I had, like being bullied and not being understood by school staff.
If you do go to school, we wanted to share some ideas of things that can be done to make it easier for you. It is hard to ask for some of these things yourself, so asking a parent/ carer to request things on your behalf can be really helpful.
Written by Lynn McCann from Reachout ASC based on advice from her autistic students.
Play to your strengths and enjoy your interests.
A good way to do this is to look at what clubs your school offers and although it can be hard to pluck up the courage to go to them it might be worth mentioning to your teacher or form tutor that you would like to go and ask if there is anyone available to help you get there.
If there isn’t a club based on your interests, you could offer to start one because in a school of hundreds of children there is usually someone else who likes the same things as you.
Find one or two members of staff that you like and can be honest with.
You might like to tell the teachers why you like them so much, so they know you trust them. When they ask you how you are, resist the temptation to say “I’m fine”. Sometimes you can say a simple “I’m not okay”, and if they ask for more information ask if there would be a good time to go and talk to them if the time then isn’t safe for you.
It can be better to have one or two safe friendships rather than trying to be popular.
One of my students said they found their friends by looking at who else was on their own and going to speak to them. Remember friendships are about each person being kind and respectful to each other. Sharing a sense of humour is great, but joining in and copying other children’s teasing to try and be part of a group rarely leads to good friendships.
Look for and ask for access to quiet spaces.
It is true that many autistic young people just need a break from ‘peopling’ at times and that could be everyday or just now and again. Your parents might help to negotiate with school to provide a place that you can go to when you need it. Although you might feel a bit embarrassed if other children see you go there, eventually they are likely to lose interest, and you get to keep going to your quiet place.
Class work, homework, rules, exams.
There are a lot of things in school that seem quite unreasonable, particularly if a teacher is telling the whole class off and you have been really good. One thing you can do is work out a scale of things you can put up with – up to things that are intolerable. Then maybe ask for adjustments for things that can make things more fair or tolerable. Examples could be:
- An example can be a homework plan that reduces some of the load for you.
If you are being picked on in school, it could be helpful to keep a diary
so there is a record of what is happening. See the links at the bottom of this page for more advice around bullying.
Ask staff if they can educate others in your school about autism
You could ask your school to set up a Neurodivergent Council Group so that neurodivergent pupils can get together and influence school policies and practices. You could ask for autistic adults to come to deliver assemblies for the school. You could ask for neurodivergent positive books in the library.
What other ideas do you have?
There are some really good resources to help you communicate what is happening and make a plan to make it stop, on the Kidscape website which Lynn has helped to make autism friendly. https://www.kidscape.org.uk/advice/advice-for-parents-and-carers/what-is-bullying/autistic-children-and-bullying
Writing led by Lynn McCann, Autism, ADHD and PDA Specialist Teacher and author | Website | Facebook page