When you're thinking of school, anxieties and anger may surface, perhaps especially if it’s mainstream. But you don’t have to go mainstream to get to the ocean. Special schools and mainstream schools alike can be places of concern, discomfort and disaster for autistic people – trust me, I know.
Why is this?
It could be one reason or a collection of reasons, which sometimes remain invisible. It could be as a result of wanting to ‘blend in’ or it could be because the person is being obscured by the label ‘high-functioning.’ You may not know the person is experiencing a problem because they are non-verbal and have not communicated to you in the accepted way (i.e through speech).
Sometimes anxiety can happen because people are bullied or teased around their natural stims (self-stimulatory behaviours done for a few reasons, including to regulate anxieties or just because it feels good). It may be that the person's "obsessions" are annoying to their classmates which opens up another channel for discrimination, unfortunately. Could there be a sensory factor? Is their clothing too tight or too loose? Is it scratchy? Are they affected by certain colours? I can personally relate to the clothing issue as my parents would buy me tight clothes one week, it seemed, and then loose clothing the next because of my complaint.
I think it is important to explore every facet of our experience before, during and after school.
I am writing this piece as an autistic man who has had his share of difficulties in school because of a disconnect between me and how my school and the people within it behaved. I found my communication tool and escape through poetry. It is now an integral part of my identity and I hope that others can find their positive outlet instead of, for instance, having a meltdown at home because until then, everything has been held in.
Music, dance, theatre, Warhammer, AutCraft, photography, painting, drawing and so much more should be made available as opportunities to engage the person as they prepare to head back to school.
I’d like to provide a link to my poem called ‘Secondary school strife’ which expresses my journey of being undiagnosed and my struggles. I was being bullied because of then-dreadlocked hair, my glasses, my tics (Tourette’s) and other silly little details people would target:
What is my point? Celebrate the autistic identity!
Things like avoiding eye contact may be because it’s painful and so is that really worth punishing? Surely, schools and society should nurture the person as much as possible and so work with their ‘obsessions’ and help them to bloom productively? An example of what I mean, would be if a child only wants to draw whilst in a history class – use that and make drawing part of the history lesson! Timelines or comic strips to show certain time periods and what represented them, perhaps?
I think that unless we are challenging preconceptions, the accepted norms of how to behave; engaging and educating our children, young people and adults, then we are not going to productively move forward. I would suggest that there is often one central theme for all of the potential concerns, discomfort, disarray and disasters that occur: ‘schools of thought’ (ways of thinking).
I offer you this: let us challenge the schools of thought that say we should ‘blend in’ and be less of our authentic and beautiful autistic self. I was missed from the SEN system and admittedly failed because of this. I would love everyone involved in school such as parents, primary caregivers, families, friends, teachers, teaching assistants, teaching staff, dinner staff, fellow pupils and beyond to be a bit more compassionate towards your autistic connection; your fellow human being.
My name is Callum Brazzo and I am 24 years old. I am from Spalding in Lincolnshire and am a social enterpreneur with Spergy.org.