Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Eight out of 10 autistic children experience anxiety over going to school

teacher 2Eight out of 10 autistic children find going to school so stressful that they experience anxiety. Of those, 58% find this anxiety so debilitating that they miss days at school, according to a new survey.

The report, entitled When Will We Learn?, by charity Ambitious about Autism, looks at the impact of the school system when it fails children and young people with autism and their families. Many families struggle to get the right support for their children, who, as a result, are not receiving the education they are entitled to.

The survey also revealed that children with autism are four times more likely to be permanently excluded from school than any other child. In addition, 45% of 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.

Not getting the right support for their children is also impacting on parents – 71% said that it was so stressful it caused them to lose sleep.

Parents reported that getting their child’s needs assessed, and accessing the right support when it was needed was difficult, with 69% of parents saying their child had waited more than a year for support and 16% waiting more than three years, according to the National Autistic Society’s School Report 2016.

Louisa Emerson, mother of Fred who features in the report, said: “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 20 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 every day.

“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 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.”

To address this, Ambitious about Autism is launching a campaign, also called When Will We Learn?, which 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: www.ambitiousaboutautism.org.uk/whenwillwelearn

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