It can be very hard for some youngsters to settle into the hubbub of a school. And to stand it long term. For some, the stressful climate, noise, constant interaction and sensory bombardment is not the best place for them to learn and achieve.

This is especially true of young people on the autistic spectrum like those with Asperger’s Syndrome for example.

Chris Packham, a television presenter we mostly associate with the programme ‘Springwatch’ has recently made a very revealing documentary about living with Asperger’s Syndrome and how he manages.

In it he discusses how difficult and sometimes painful it was for him to cope with the school setting. How he recognised that he experienced the world differently to others, and how a sensory overload, often common in a class setting, caused inescapable distractions that constantly seduced his attention away from the work in hand.

The programme is available here for a short time.

It’s clear he was lucky to achieve what he did. Many young people, more severely affected by the condition, are not so lucky. They struggle on in school, don’t reach their potential, some earning reputations for being disruptive, unintelligent or at worst excluded.

It does seem unrealistic that with all the diversity of children’s personalities we would expect them to fit into one type of setting. Yet there is very little provision for these children and may be the reason why  school exclusion numbers are on the rise.

Add onto to that the fact that the pressures of school, tests, homework and exams increase constantly and it’s easy to see why that might get worse.

The head of a pioneering school for children who have been excluded recognises that it is often youngsters on the autistic spectrum who end up in that position. And the provision he makes in his school to help them achieve in a different setting is inspiring.

But not every family has access to this kind of empathetic provision. And some are turning to home education in order to provide a different setting more in tune with their child’s needs. Children who find the social and sensory setting of a school too overwhelming can be introduced at a more gradual rate into the mainstream settings they’ll have to encounter later in life. And most go on to achieve this, also achieving good educational outcomes which may not have been the case in school.

None of these provide an ideal answer to educational provision for those who need different environments in which to achieve. But at least they are alternatives to being labelled as disruptive or weird or failures, which is what many autistic children endure in a mainstream setting.

What would be more helpful would be the acknowledgement that not all young people are going to thrive and achieve in a mainstream class setting; forcing them to do so or giving them negative labels is not acceptable.

Instead we could perhaps learn from programmes like Chris Packham’s and other people on the autistic spectrum as to how best to provide for youngsters who quite rightly need something different.


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Laura is a Francophile with a passion for literature and linguistics. She also loves skiing, cooking and painting.