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Tips for coping at school if you're autistic

These tips have helped me, but every autistic person is different;

Understanding your sensory needs at school

  • Headphones - Like many autistic people I struggle with loud noises, so I wear noise-cancelling headphones when studying, walking around or during loud classes.

  • Wearing comfortable socks - Being comfy means I can focus better.

  • Food and mood - I make sure to always have some of my "safe snacks" that I can always eat, such as breakfast bars or fruit bars.

Building time to decompress

Decompressing is giving yourself time to relax and unwind during the school day to help you manage better, feel more energised and avoid an autistic meltdown (for me these feel like I’m an erupting volcano) or shutdown (for me this is when I can’t talk and am extra sensory sensitive).

  • Colouring in - This is good because it’s engaging but also calming. In school my teachers have lots of colouring books and I have a colouring break when things are overwhelming.

  • Safe space - This is somewhere that you feel comfortable. Most schools have a sensory room or a quiet room.

  • Engaging in your interests - Autistic people often have strong interests that they can find calming. For example I love Dr. Who, so every day on the way home I watch an episode on the train

Managing Friendships

Friendships can be extra challenging for autistic people because part of autism is having a different communication style and taking things literally.

Questions I ask myself to help keep my friendships healthy include:

  • Do I feel energised and confident being with this person?

  • Do I look forward to seeing this person?

  • Are we both making time for each other?

This helps me prioritise who I want to spend my time with. It’s a myth that autism equals no empathy - in fact we have so much we don’t know how to express it!.

Setting yourself up for a good day

Planning ahead is super important when you are autistic, as we thrive off routine. I’ve found it helpful to have set things that I can do every day – even if other plans have had to change. For example:

  • a cup of tea and a snack after school

  • a daily walk

  • walking the same route to my form room each morning

Knowing your rights

Talk to your school about what accommodations they have - you may be surprised with what they can offer, for example:

  • access to a sensory space

  • support during exams

  • mentoring

  • referrals for autism specialist support

  • financial advice

  • you may qualify for an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), which is a legally binding document stating the support you need to access education.

Remembering that school isn't everything

If you have to leave education, it’s not the end of the world. There are different routes into education and a multitude of opportunities in the job world. For example, a normal A-level programme is two years, but consider doing it over three years to make it more manageable.

Autism isn’t a barrier and there are so many tips and tricks to help make your school days accessible.

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