Challenges and discrimination for autistic children in school5 min read

Karen is a guest con­trib­utor to The Aspergian. She and her son Scott create videos on YouTube about autism and school. The Aspergian invited her to con­tribute an article since we were so impressed with their YouTube work, showing one autistic boy’s first-hand expe­ri­ences, in the hopes that making his story public will edu­cate people and lead to progress. Their YouTube channel is Scotty P and Me.

Welcome to my little window of the world. I live in a little country called New Zealand. I am a mother of four chil­dren, my youngest son Scott is the focus of this article. Scott is diag­nosed with Autism, ADHD, and dys­praxia. He got his diag­nosis at the age of 9, and he is now 12. I’m trying very hard to keep to topic as we have had a long and hard road to where we are today and most of the issues have been around the edu­ca­tion system. Looking at the topic of this article I could easily write a book about the trials and hor­rific expe­ri­ences both Scott and we as par­ents have been through.

The pure lack of knowl­edge and under­standing of Autism has been the cat­a­lyst for teachers treating Scott with utter dis­re­spect, neglect, and abuse. I am a teacher myself, and my hus­band is a man­ager in the health and dis­ability sector. We have walked away from many meet­ings scratching our heads at the utter igno­rance and inflex­i­bility in atti­tudes and prac­tices.

From the first year at school, teachers would com­ment on his unusual behav­iours, his inability to sit still, to be apart of the group sit­u­a­tions, and his ongoing mis­be­hav­iours and defi­ance. In short, the teachers saw a boy who looked normal on the out­side… he likes to please the teachers at times and is com­pliant to a point. But then all of the sudden, he starts ‘acting up,’ rolling on the floor, lying on the floor refusing to move, and some­times he screams and cries.

Teachers see this as bad behav­iour and think he is being defiant, and that’s how they labelled him. Add to that poor Scott had issues with incon­ti­nence for many years at school, and teachers just didn’t care enough to help him with it. They wouldn’t remind him to go to the toilet, and then later scorn him for having an acci­dent.

It’s not a part of my job descrip­tion to help chil­dren change into fresh clothes was what I was told one day when I col­lected Scott at the end of day in wet and soiled clothes with a huge rash because he had been like that for hours.  I learnt pretty quickly to become my son’s advo­cate and the mama bear came out.

Being a teacher myself, if I didn’t change a nappy, it was called neglect and against a child’s basic human rights, I quickly barked back. We would spend a lot of time out of our own pri­vate time making meeting after meeting with teachers about Scott’s issues.

It all seemed quite an obvious problem to us, but the teachers seemed to be clue­less as to why they were seeing such “bad behav­iour.” As they described these behav­iours, I would point out the con­nec­tion around the fact he had to write things down. Due to his dys­praxia, Scott found it hard to write in a leg­ible manner, on top of him already finding it hard to put his ideas down due to autism.

He actu­ally has an amazing imag­i­na­tion and is capable of telling amazing sto­ries orally. The melt­downs, the crying, screaming, and out­bursts were all cen­tered around him having to write. It took us, the par­ents, to pin­point and look for the trig­gers in the behav­iour, and point out what can they do to over­come the obsta­cles.

Scott became more and more dis­il­lu­sioned as he would do a project, and he would have incred­ible evi­dence but he would be marked severely for his writing, which actu­ally had nothing to do with the con­tent of what they were after. His dis­il­lu­sion­ment lead to him thinking the teacher hated him and he was quickly labelled the naughty boy, who if he only tried harder would be better.

He would be forced to write in the belief that all the prac­tice would make him better. You can imagine due to all this the amount of melt­downs and shut­downs Scott had, which in turn led to him being bul­lied by his peers.

We moved Scott’s schools a few times in hope they would take a better approach. As par­ents, we learnt to talk to the school first to see what their atti­tudes were about chil­dren with extra needs. Luckily, Scott has always had a great atti­tude towards life, but even he found it hard to shake off the old atti­tudes of teachers.

It was when we finally got a diag­nosis that we found that we were taken a little bit more seri­ously. The school was a bit more open to get­ting him some more sup­port like using an iPad instead of writing with a pen, and even having the assis­tance of a teacher’s aide.

The worst treat­ment Scott got from teachers was usu­ally around them having inflex­ible ideas and strate­gies for dealing with him. Using phys­ical force to take him out of the class for not com­plying with teachers’ instruc­tions was an extreme reac­tion and actu­ally added fuel to the fire.

I found a lot of teachers had the atti­tude that they were right, and it was their way or the highway. Instead of taking the time to under­stand that there was a reason behind Scott’s behav­iour, all they needed to do was take time to get to know him and see how he ticks.

In my sector of early child­hood edu­ca­tion, our cur­riculum is based on the fact that every single child is unique and has his or her own strengths and inter­ests. Education is based on inter­ests, and it is all about knowing each and every child. The pri­mary school sector seems to be locked into this one-size-fits-all approach to edu­ca­tion, and if your child doesn’t fit, they are placed into the too-hard box.

This has given me the drive to edu­cate these teachers about autism and how they can adapt their prac­tice accord­ingly. I have done pre­sen­ta­tions to teachers, teacher aides, and health pro­fes­sionals. Scott and I have been inspired to  go fur­ther in edu­cating the public on autism and have a YouTube channel talking about what autism is and how it affects people.

Scott is now in an amazing school and has excelled from day one. He has not had one melt­down and is truly accepted for who he is. He is a totally dif­ferent boy and is in a good place in under­standing him­self and is pas­sionate about helping others. He wants to share his sorry so no one has to go through what he has. Let’s hope that we can make a change for others out there.


  1. This is pow­erful, and really gives a good insight into what it’s like for autistic kids in school. I was a teacher for 13 years, and this is making me think back to all the times I told kids they needed to try harder. I’m cringing at myself, because maybe they couldn’t have tried harder, or trying harder was making them mis­er­able.

  2. I love this! I worked along­side Karen for 2 years as a Teacher, She has helped me through an ASD diag­nosis for my daughter now 6 yrs — and is a huge advo­cate for chil­dren in the com­mu­nity strug­gling in the school set­ting. Teachers need to pull their heads in when it comes to under­standing ASD and spec­trum dis­or­ders, there is such a stigma that every child with ASD is non verbal, hand flap­ping and rocking. each child is dif­ferent, though their symt­poms and traits meet the DSM 5 critera for spec­trum diag­nosis. I have had many meet­ings and dis­cus­sions with my daugh­ters teacher this year to help her school and class room envi­ro­ment and I am lucky her teacher is won­derful! — Chloe is now able to self regualte her anx­itey with weighted blan­kets, head­phones and visual cue cards, melt­downs are few and far between although happen at home a lot. 🙂

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