Children and young people with autism often face additional challenges in school which may make them anxious about school and appear to experience EBSA. These include:
- differences in identifying and describing their own and others’ emotions
- emotional regulation difficulties
- differences in sensory processing and finding the sensory environment overwhelming - loud corridors, different smells, busy classrooms
- difficulties understanding and predicting social situations and managing interactions with others
- worries around change or transitions - moving between classrooms, changes to timetables, supply teachers
- executive functioning and organisation difficulties - remembering books, homework, equipment
- masking - trying to fit in or attempting to appear more neurotypical by changing their behaviour and internalising any anxiety
- experiencing performance anxiety related to the schoolwork or exams
These differences can make the world unpredictable, uncertain and difficult to tolerate. For example, school life is full of sensory experiences ranging from busy corridors to colourful display boards to school uniforms in materials that children might find difficult to tolerate. Difficulties in understanding their emotions also makes the world feel more uncertain and unpredictable as well as making it difficult to regulate emotions. It is this uncertainty and unpredictability which can then cause anxiety. However, it is important to appreciate that anxiety is not simply a part of autism and can and should be supported in its own right.
It is therefore vital that the right support and adjustments are put in place for a child or young person’s autistic needs. Using a robust graduated approach to meet their individual needs to avoid the child or young person having to manage their anxiety by avoiding school altogether. This should include early attention and intervention to develop the child or young person’s social skills, emotional literacy, resilience and their ability to self- regulate. Where further support is needed to enable a child or young person’s autistic needs to be met in school, the working together team should be contacted.
The working together team is a National Autistic Society advanced status accredited service that offer a wide range of resources, advice, training and support to schools and families. They advocate best practice and provide specialist support to mainstream schools to enable schools to effectively meet the needs of autistic children and young people.