Education and autism

Many autistic young people are let down by the education system, and as a result are being held back from fulfilling their full potential. Schools have a duty under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments for autistic students, but despite this many autistic pupils unfortunately still face difficulties.


Schools can be a very hard environment for autistic people. Difficulties in sensory regulation, executive functioning, processing information, changes and transitions, social skills, and communication skills can all contribute to autistic students being unable to cope in a school environment. 


Whether a mainstream school or a special school (a school for children with special educational needs) would be better suited for an autistic student depends upon the individual’s needs. More than 70% of autistic students attend mainstream schools; even though they’re mainstream, they still have a duty to do everything they can to meet autism students’ needs. 

Lack of understanding

Despite this, autistic students are three times more likely to be excluded from a mainstream school than students with no special educational needs. This is largely to do with a lack of understanding of autism from school staff, and school behavior policies not taking into account behavior which comes as a consequence of autism. ‘Negative’ behavior displayed by autistic students can often be a sign that they are in need of help or are distressed. 

Additional support

Some autistic students may need help outside of what a school usually provides. An education, health, and care (EHC) plan can help with this, and can allow schools to apply for extra money to help to support the student and can help when applying for a different school that might better suit the student. Unfortunately many parents have difficulties in agreeing an EHC plan for their child, which can lead to the child not getting the support that they need. A


To help to make school environments more accessible for autistic people, it is important that school staff gain a better understanding of autism, and learn each student’s difficulties and copying mechanisms. Reasonable adjustments should also be put in place in school environments, with examples being allowing time to process information, reducing sensory stimuli, and adjusting the type of work and homework set. 

Reaching full potential 

If this support like this is put in place in school environments, it will make the environment easier to cope with for autistic students and make sure that young people aren’t held back from reaching their full potential. 

Working Assistance Dog 'Echo' with his handler at college
Working Assistance Dog 'Kaya' assisting her handler in school

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