Adjustments In School For Autistic Students

The Equality Act means that schools have a duty to make adjustments for those who are at a disadvantage due to a disability or mental health condition. BUT it should not be based on your academic achievements, for example being a straight A* student does not mean one doesn’t struggle at school. 

Throughout my time in mainstream education, I have refused to go to school, experienced numerous panic attacks, been hospitalised etc, but if you were to look at my grades you would assume I was doing well. It is so important that schools put in place suitable adjustments for those with hidden disabilities, these are some that I have received and some that I wish I received.

1. Given the option to miss PE & go to the library

I was allowed to do this throughout year 11 and found it incredibly helpful. PE can be such a huge trigger for many autistic students so having somewhere quiet to go makes such a big difference. The changing rooms are crowded & loud with strong smells which can cause sensory overload. A lot of autistic students are also dyspraxic so struggle with physical coordination; this means that we are often picked last for teams and struggle with the physical aspects. We also find verbal communication hard so may not always understand the instructions given. Going to the library meant that I could also recharge and have a break from the anxiety of lessons so I was better prepared for the rest of the academic day.

2. Excused from assemblies

Again, this was put in place during year 11. I used to find sitting in a large crowded hall first thing in the morning extremely overwhelming – I would feel trapped, like I had no escape. This had a profound impact on my ability to learn and engage for the rest of the day. A lot of the important information given out in assemblies tends to be emailed out to all students later on anyway so by being excused you won’t miss anything.

3. Not given my grade after a test/ assignment 

This was put in place after I was adjusting to school life after being in hospital for my mental health. I suffer with quite severe anxiety and would get so obsessed over achieving A*s. With assignments, I would either procrastinate doing them out of fear of failure or I would redo the questions over and over to ensure I got it right. Similarly, I would have panic attacks both before and during tests because I was so scared of not getting an A*. It seemed that somewhere along the way I forgot that the aim of these pieces of work is to help us learn and that one of the best ways to learn is to make mistakes. Instead I was given feedback for improvement, this allowed me to relax a lot more and focus more on the process and points of improvement.

4. Fidget Toys

Since being diagnosed I have allowed myself to stim a lot more freely and this has included using fidget toys. Throughout my time at school these were banned but many autistic students need these to help regulate emotions and focus. Many teachers falsely assume that ‘fidgeting’ means you aren’t listening but for many of us it is actually the opposite, they help us listen!

5. Seating Plans

I often experience sensory overloads when I am overstimulated by sensory stimuli as well as panic attacks due to my constant anxiety. I was always seated on the edge by the door so that I could escape if I needed to. I was also seated next to a friend which helped me to feel much more comfortable in class.

6. Uniform Adjustments

This is something that I unfortunately never received but it would have been so helpful. I always found a top button extremely distressing as well as tights due to my sensory differences. I wish I could have been allowed to have my top button undone or worn leggings instead of tights. School is about learning and the uniform often prevents me from concentrating and impacts my ability to focus.

7. Time Out Card & Leaving Early

Again, this was never available to me but I have heard other autistic students speak very highly about it. This is essentially a card that means we can leave a lesson at any point if we are experiencing a sensory overload or feel overwhelmed as well as letting us leave a lesson 5 minutes early. This would help autistic students as quite often we need somewhere quiet to go to recover and it would also mean we miss the busy school corridors.

8. Exam Adjustments

During sixth form I was never offered any suitable exam adjustments – I didn’t even know that this was available to autistic people until I arrived at university. I am now allowed to sit my exams in a separate room, have rest breaks and have been allocated 25% extra time. Autistic students should always be given these options.

9. Reduced Timetable

This was offered to me during during both year 11 and sixth form when I was allowed to miss some lessons and do them from home as well as missing registration. This helped me to feel less overwhelmed and helped my focus during the lessons I was in school for. Autistic people often have less energy available and may experience burnout more frequently, having a day at home means we can recover and regain our strength. You are allowed a day off school for your physical health so mental health should be no different. 

10. Lunch Arrangements

Lunch was always a sensory nightmare for me – the crowds were too loud, there were too many smells, there were limited food options (I am quite a fussy eater!). I also never had many friends so would never have anyone to sit on a table with and due to my social anxiety I find it hard to eat in front of other people, especially strangers. I would often hide in the school toilets during lunch and not eat which was not particularly helpful! It would have been extremely helpful to have been given the opportunity go home for lunch or bring in my own.

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