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Wednesday 19 October 2016

8 in 10 children with autism experience anxiety about attending school

The report, when will we learn?, looks at the impact of the school system when it fails children and young people with autism and their families. Many families are struggling to get the right support for their children and young people, who, as a result, are not receiving the education they are entitled to. The survey also revealed:

  • Children with autism are four times more likely to be permanently excluded from school than any other child.
  • 45% of the families surveyed said that their child had been illegally sent home from school, put on a reduced timetable, sent home early or asked not to come in to school when tests or school trips were happening, denying them a full education.
  • 71% of parents of children with autism say that getting them the right support in school was so stressful it caused them to lose sleep.

Parents reported that getting their child’s needs assessed, and accessing the right support at the right time is never easy. 69% of parents said their child had waited more than a year for support and 16% had waited more than three years[1].

Louisa Emerson, mother of Fred who features in the report, says:

“Fred had an Education, Health and Care Plan but the people who should have been supporting him at school had no training or understanding of autism and therefore, did not put his plan into place. There was also a reluctance to fund the support. I was forever being told they didn't have the resources”.

“Despite his diagnosis, we were threatened with exclusions on several occasions and this made Fred incredibly anxious.  My son wasn’t getting the support he needed and this had consequences for him. There was an incident with another child and as a result, he was illegally excluded for twenty days. He was taught in a small back room away from the others. Fred no longer felt safe at school. As parents you feel like you have to send your child to school, but we felt like we were sending him to be abused every day.

“This exclusion had a devastating effect on us all but particularly on Fred – he refused to eat or leave the house. There was no-one to help us.

“In the end, we decided to change schools but I had to leave my job; he has to be the priority. The experience has scarred me and I don’t trust schools anymore, which is awful.”

Jolanta Lasota, Chief Executive of Ambitious about Autism, said:

“Our survey shows that the education system is still not working for many children and young people with autism.  It is unacceptable that 8 out of 10 children with autism are experiencing anxiety about going to school everyday.

“Every child has a fundamental right to an education. Yet 45% of parents of children with autism say their children have, at some point, been illegally denied that right. Education is the key to transforming the lives of children and young people with autism and early intervention, education and support are critical if children and young people with autism are to lead fulfilling lives and make a positive contribution to society.

“Children with autism must access an assessment faster and their needs should be met in an environment that is welcoming to and accepting of them, so they can succeed in education and enjoy their childhoods.”

Ambitious about Autism’s when will we learn? campaign aims to ensure:

Children with autism get the right start by making sure their educational needs are assessed promptly after diagnosis.
The needs of children with autism are met by having the right mix of services and support.

Schools are supported to do a great job by making sure everyone working in schools receives training to support children with autism.
The rights of children with autism are respected by preventing illegal exclusions and supporting school governors to fulfil their legal responsibility to children with autism.

Sign up to support when will we learn? campaign at

If you would like to interview a spokesperson or case study about this campaign, please contact our media manager on 020 8815 5134 or email



Notes to editor

  • The when will we learn? online survey was carried out from 16 June until 1 September 2016 and 745 young people with autism, parents and carers completed the survey. Statistics in the when will we learn? campaign report came from Freedom and Information requests, research from other organisations and the Department for Education.
  • This report is part of the joint ‘Every Child’ campaign; a partnership between Ambitious about Autism and the National Autistic Society.
  • Ambitious about Autism is the national charity for children and young people with autism. We provide services, raise awareness and understanding, and campaign for change. Through TreeHouse School and, Ambitious College and the Autism Schools Trust, we offer specialist education and support.
  • Autism is a lifelong development disability which affects one in 100 people in the UK. It affects the way a person communicates and how they experience the world around them. Some people with autism are able to live independent lives, but others may face additional challenges including learning disabilities.