Empowering People, Launching lives

Educating from an autism perspective

Author: Robert Woolf, Intern



30th June 2022 | 3 mins read

The goal of this blog is to use my personal experience to help readers understand how the autism spectrum shapes school lives, how to harness characteristics of autism and how to cater for neurodivergent students. I will provide glimpses of myself and a TV personality in the process. 

Educating Essex is a Channel 4 documentary series which shows the lives of staff and pupils at a mainstream school. A pupil named Ryan has Asperger’s. I also have Asperger’s and managed to attend a mainstream school where I achieved academically but fell short socially. He received help from a teaching assistant and special educational needs coordinator.

I relate to the 3 statements below made by Ryan in the series which can be found in a video by Our Stories:

1. “I’m not like other people. I mean, some think I’m weird; others think I’m extraordinary.”

In the words of Ed Sheeran, “being weird is a wonderful thing.” In a YouTube video by Audacity Originals, he said, “I think if you’re a weird kid, you grow up to be an interesting adult.” On that basis, I think diversity should be developed.


2. “People like my sense of humour.”

Like many autistic people I earned a reputation for telling the truth. Honesty is a source of humour, hence the popular phrase “it’s funny because it’s true”. Also, looking at things in different ways can lead to funny lines.


3. “I’d like to be seen as mature, but getting a job and working hard earning your own money and trying to take care of yourself and paying the bills is something I’m a bit worried about.”

Pre-pandemic, only 22% of adults of working age with autism were in employment. BeyondAutism designed an employability toolkit to improve this statistic. I think it contains accurate autism symptoms, valuable visual aids and stellar strategies. Autistic students would benefit greatly from reading this toolkit, receiving training and partaking in work experience.

A common characteristic of autism is taking things literally. Ryan demonstrated this in the series. His mum asked him, “You talked to them a lot then, didn’t you, about what makes you tick and what you want?” He replied, “Tick – I’m not a clock, but that is,” as he pointed at a clock because a tick is typically associated with a clock. In my school life, I directed my literal thinking towards word associations and images for memorising facts. This trick, along with extra time I got, meant I excelled at exams.

Autistic people can be more at risk of being bullied than their peers. In the show, Ryan is very, very worried about bullies. Ryan’s worry became my reality as I was subjected to relentless bullying from silly billies.

I bottled up my feelings which was unhealthy. Having a school mentor to confide in might have meant it stopped sooner.

In a separate video by Our Stories about Ryan, he looks back on his Year 11. He said, “When you hear loud noises, it’s difficult to block it out and just ignore it”. He said to his old headteacher, “I think you and everyone else has given me the confidence I need just to press forward, move on – that sort of thing”. I think BeyondAutism has given me the confidence I need. During my internship at BeyondAutism, I have grown in confidence creating content, mingling with managers and colleagues and much more.


How to support at school

I think schools can cater for neurodivergent students in a variety of ways. Firstly, classrooms can be comfortable. The clutter can be cleared because less mess means less stress. Rocking chairs can be provided for stimming students with a habit of rocking back and forth to keep calm. Beanbag chairs are a suitable seating substitute. Minimising auditory and visual distractions avoids sensory overload. Some students at BeyondAutism wear noise cancelling headphones. This enables them to focus on the task at hand to the fullest extent.

Other ways to cater include class discussions to develop social skills, alternative communication methods (such as Proloquo2Go), breaks between tasks for mental refuel, visual timers for time management, images for visual learners, voice recording devices, additional processing time and theoretical concepts directed towards special interests.

In conclusion, neurodivergent students have a lot to offer. I believe that we should be benevolent, beat stereotypes and create environments where they blossom with a bottom-up approach. I challenge you to bite the bullet and improve the lives of autistic people.


Further reading:

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