Life on the Autism spectrum

Autism & going to school

People looked back at their school days and talked about their experiences which were often before they had been diagnosed. They attended a mix of mainstream schools, special schools, boarding school and private schools. One person was home schooled from the age of 13 (see Parents of Children with Autism, Interview 31)
“I kept a pretty low profile”
Many people did not enjoy school; they didn’t have many friends and several talked about being bullied. One man said, “I was bullied a lot. Everyday actually. I think it was because I was slightly different and they thought ‘Oh, he’s an easy target’”. Another talked about how he avoided bullying by staying in the background; “That was how I negotiated school, I suppose, I kept a pretty low profile. I was eccentric essentially.” Paul I described how he was easy to bully as a child; “You could set me up very easily. And I’d be the last one to get it.” 
Keeping quiet and withdrawn was a strategy several people used. Tim talked about managing to get into a small bunch of “misfits” which helped him get through school. 
A couple of women recalled being “figures of fun” at school but didn’t feel they were bullied.

Some people recalled difficulties concentrating. Mary said that she wasn’t expected to do well at GCSE level because she would only pay attention in class if she was interested in the topic. A couple of people didn’t understand that teachers were authority figures; “I didn’t understand why I had to listen to them and obey them. It didn’t make any sense to me”. A few people discussed how they did better at school once they got to A levels because then were doing subjects they liked.

Being very good at some subjects and very poor at others, was an experience for a few people.

“I was basically considered a naughty boy”
Part of the difficulty people had at school was to do with the lack of appropriate support. Several people had attended school at a time when the diagnosis of Asperger syndrome was rarely recognised. Teachers thought they were lazy or badly behaved or, as one person said; “wilful and naughty”. Miranda said that the teachers thought she was “stupid and selfish for holding the bright ones back”. Now she has returned to education in her 40s, she is realising her potential with the appropriate support. While having a diagnosis did not always lead to appropriate support, Alex feels “very lucky” to have been diagnosed at a very young age because she went through school with full time one to one support.
Other people discussed the things they found difficult about school or the things that could have made a difference to them. Some felt that they didn’t get on at school until they had been 'statemented' (received a statement of special educational needs) and received the appropriate support.
The transition to secondary school was difficult for some. As Christopher said; “It was like trying to step over the Grand Canyon. Everything was so different, bigger and not nicer”. Christopher had difficult experiences at secondary school. The school didn’t really acknowledge his diagnosis or offer him support when he was bullied. He said, “I was fine with the teachers and the lessons. I just didn’t like the 900 or so other people who were there and I think, to be honest, that feeling was reciprocated”.
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One person went to a specialist base for children with Asperger syndrome attached to a mainstream school and this had a very positive effect on his life;

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Last reviewed July 2016.
Last updated July 2016.


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