Parents of children on the Autism Spectrum

Difficulties in education; disliking school

Many of the children diagnosed with Asperger syndrome were in mainstream education and found the move from primary to secondary school very difficult. Parents said primary school was better suited to the children as they were in one classroom with one teacher. Secondary schools were often huge, bewildering environments for children who found it hard to manage classroom changes and numerous teachers.

Some children became very distressed about going to school. They would cry, cling on to their parents, run away, become ill or ‘school refusers’. As one mother said; “If you imagine you are scared of public speaking and you have to do it once you get very frightened, but for Callum it was going through something you hated every single day of your life”. Some parents' children were so tense throughout the school day, they would “explode” when they got home.

Some parents said that the distress their children experienced was so severe that they threatened to commit suicide. One parent described her son as “suicidal and he just…he wouldn’t have been alive to be honest if I’d left him in school any longer”.

Some of the children’s difficulties with school related to their sensory sensitivities (see ‘Fears, anxieties, sensory issues and meltdowns’). They felt overwhelmed by the noises in the corridors and could not cope with the large crowds of children at school. Some children found it difficult to get themselves to the right classroom or turn up to class with the right equipment.

One parent described how valuable her son’s pastoral support was in his secondary school. He could talk to his SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) about any difficulties and she let him keep his belongings in her office which helped him organise himself during the school day.

Many parents said that their children had been bullied at school, particularly after moving to secondary school. Many said their children were singled out because they were perceived to be different and did not have the resources to stand up to other children. As one mother said, “People don’t like people who aren’t normal if you see what I mean. They become frightened and so immediately there is a barrier, immediately.” The children were particularly vulnerable at break time and lunch time when their one to one support worker was not there.

Some of the parents described how their children felt bullied because they were overly sensitive to injustices (seeCommunication). One mother said her son began to experience social difficulties with his peer group when he reached the age of about seven. “He felt bullied. They felt he was just odd. They would jostle him and he would fight back”.

A few parents felt that teachers who did not understand autism had bullied their children. A teacher at a private school had said to one boy's mother' “I know Luke has autism, but as far as I’m concerned he can leave it at the doorstep when he comes into my classroom because I only teach maths”. Another said a group of women students continued to bully her daughter even when she was at university (see ‘Further education’).

Teacher training
Many parents we interviewed felt that the teachers or teaching assistants at their children’s mainstream schools lacked appropriate training to be able to understand their children. They talked about how it was “pot luck” to get an assistant or teacher who had some understanding of autism and how this could change every year. As one parent described: “It felt like it didn’t matter if he learned anything as long as he was quiet but if he was disruptive in class then it wasn’t far from exclusion very quickly”.

Existing staff training provision was challenged by parents who felt that it was not possible to gain sufficient understanding in a one day course on ‘special needs’. One parent suggested that it was not just the teaching staff who should be trained but all school staff including administrative and catering staff because they would be interacting with the children too.

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Last reviewed July 2017.

Last updated November 2010.


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