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Why school is challenging for children and teens on the Autism Spectrum

Updated: Feb 4

There are many reasons why school is hard for children and teens on the autism spectrum. In the community of professionals that work alongside children who find it hard to go to school, we refer to these challenges as ‘barriers’, which simply means 'things that get in the way' of success at school.


The more that parents and other professionals learn about these barriers, the more we can take actions to take these barriers away.
Why?
Because every child deserves to experience success at school.

So, why is school so hard for kids on the autism spectrum?


Primary school

  • There is a big jump from kindy to primary (its everyday!)

  • Some kids thrive on structure, others are restricted by it

  • Kids have the same teacher and class for a whole year

  • Open-plan classrooms and learning areas can lead to a sensory overload for some children

  • Social demands begin to increase



Highschool

  • There is a big developmental surge in adolescents including brain and hormonal changes

  • Different teachers, inconsistencies with learning expectations and differing teaching styles.

  • Needing to move from class to class- no stable ‘base’.

  • Exponential leap in social demands and social expectations.

  • Increased demand on being an ‘independent learner’

  • High school teachers aren’t necessarily trained on the basics of reading and writing- challenging for students who have challenges reading and writing.

  • More students & increased noise

  • Ever changing landscape of teachers and subjects- challenging for young people who experience difficulties with change.

  • There are hidden ‘rules’ that students are expected to know (when do I put my hand up and when do I just talk? What if I don’t agree with what they are saying? What class do I go to next? I cant read the timetable.. The teacher said we must finish before we leave, why are people moving for the bell? The teacher said “let’s revisit”- who are we visiting?)

  • Difficulties understanding and accessing the curriculum

  • Difficulties understanding metacognitive verbs in assessments (eg: analyse) and assessments requiring them to take the perspective of a character- challenging for teens on the spectrum.



Schools are required to make reasonable adjustments and activate support to help a child learn to the best of their ability, however there are many things that parents and other professionals can also do to support.


A speech pathologist might work with a child on literacy challenges, or supporting a young person to understanding these hidden social ‘rules’ at school. A psychologist might support a teen to learn to cope better with change and anxiety being in a classroom and an occupational therapist might work with a child on strategies to reduce their sensory overload in the classroom.


No matter the challenges, there are many things that can be done and it's important to provide opportunities and support children experience success at school.


If you’d like any more information and resources please click here


If you’d like to book your child in with a speech pathologist click here.


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