Surviving School

What are the benefits of going to school?

School can provide us with a good education, giving us a chance to progress to additional studies or gain employment.

School gives us opportunities to make new friends.

Studying new things every day can help stimulate our minds and expand our knowledge.

School can help us to gain confidence.

Why might we find school difficult?

School can be challenging for many different reasons. It’s important to realise that other people will sometimes find school difficult too. People with autism may struggle at school because:

Travelling to and from school can be challenging and tiring. The amount of socialising we need to do is extended. Travelling independently may provoke anxiety because there might be a lot of hustle and bustle and no-one to support us.

School requires a lot of social interaction and engagement. It can be exhausting to have to continually conform and socialise with peers. We may not know what to say to people and find it difficult to make friends.

We may have a strong dislike of certain lessons for specific reasons, leading to our grades deteriorating in that subject or us avoiding it all together.

Our sensory difficulties can make it hard for us to concentrate in class. We may get easily distracted or overwhelmed in loud environments, such as a noisy classroom or a lunch hall.

 Asking for extra support in class and during unstructured times, such as break and lunch time, can be difficult. We may not know how to ask or feel embarrassed to do so in front of our peers.

The workload can be too much for us to cope with. Additional homework can be hard to manage, which can heighten our stress levels.

We may find it difficult to cope with changes in routine. A slight change or unpredictability could lead to an emotional outburst or a display of anger issues.

We may get bullied by our peers for being slightly different. Bullying can cause feelings of worthlessness and may lead to a spiral of depression or other mental health issues.

Teachers and other school staff may not understand our individual needs and support us appropriately, leading to feelings of isolation and frustration.

My Experience

Lauren Smith photo portrait

For me, school was living hell. I struggled throughout primary and hoped things would improve at secondary, however they only worsened, and my confidence shattered. I felt incredibly self-conscious. It was a cold, icy blue experience (isolating and depressing.) After a couple of bearable years, my friends turned against me and I was left alone. I was too shy to smile or speak to people – I was socially awkward, leading to people thinking I was self-obsessed and obnoxious. The school had no knowledge of autism and mum had to argue continually to get me any support, causing us to feel unvalued and exhausted. The unhelpful comments from teachers only heightened my anxiety. My anxiety was debilitating – I was overwhelmed by the smallest of changes and anything that wasn’t exactly right. I was too anxious to eat; therefore I didn’t eat lunch for six weeks. This in turn had a detrimental affect on my physical health. After numerous meetings and arguments, I was given a reduced timetable, where I attended school twice a week and was home-schooled the rest of the time. However, as my life still hadn’t improved, I was withdrawn from mainstream education and referred to a specialist unit for people with health and anxiety issues, the year before my GCSE’s. Overall, school impacted my life hugely. I had an extremely negative time and struggled immensely in mainstream, but my experience has now made me a stronger person.

Top Tips For Surviving School!

  • Just be yourself. It can be extremely difficult if you don’t fit in and continually trying to ‘normalise’ yourself to fit in with society and the neuro-typical expectations is exhausting.
  • Stand up for yourself; be strong. Show your true colours. Never let anyone get you down. If you’re being bullied, make sure you tell a trusted adult (teacher or parent); don’t let it mount up. Try to act confident, even if you’re not.
  • Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. Focus on yourself, rather than anyone else. Nobody knows the path you’ve walked so they don’t have the right to judge you. If people are mean to you, they are in the wrong (they have no knowledge or understanding!) Your life is totally different to everyone else’s so don’t compare yourself to others or focus on any negative comments of others.
  • Stand up for your rights. Sometimes, it can be very frustrating if you feel that teachers don’t have any understanding of autism. This is why, it’s very important to get your voice heard (encourage them to learn more about the condition.) Don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s wrong to express your opinions or that you shouldn’t use your preferred method of communication to get your voice heard. You have the same right as anyone else to speak up and say if you are feeling uncomfortable, need support or if something is incorrect.
  • Take gradual steps. Try not to do everything at once. Taking small steps will make things seem easier and less stressful. The most anxious or frustrated you become, the harder it is to concentrate. Prioritising workloads is a good idea (use lots of lists.) Set yourself achievable targets that you want to achieve (not things that other people expect you to achieve.)
  • Use your special interests to motivate you. If you’re struggling at school, it can seem like the easy option is to give up. Of course it is! But, giving up only makes you weaker. Try to use what you’re interested in to get you through each day. Make a list or a poster (be really creative) to reflect upon your interests and the reasons why you need to go to school.
  • Try to enjoy your time at school. The majority of people miss school when they leave, no matter how much they ‘hate’ it at the time. If you make the most out of the time you have at school, it may not seem as daunting and pointless.
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