Many teenagers can find the school environment challenging. Sometimes these challenges can seem overwhelming and may result in the teenager refusing to attend school. School refusal, as with all behaviours, may continue until the reasons behind it have been identified and addressed. (Behaviours of concern)
Many teenagers with autism fully appreciate that they are different from their peers, but many are unhappy about being different and do not want others to know. They see their autism as a negative and may not fully appreciate the positives that they experience because they have autism. Being a teenager is difficult, being a teenager who is different has added pressures.
Liane Holliday-Willey in her autobiography, “Pretending to be Normal”, in a bid to be accepted by her peers said, “I was an avid observer. I was enthralled at the nuances of people’s actions. In fact, I often found it desirable to become the other person…..At times, I literally copied someone’s looks and their actions. I was uncanny in my ability to copy accents, vocal inflections, facial expressions, hand movements, gaits and tiny gestures. It was as if I became the person I was emulating.”
This also carries with it a repercussions.
To share or not to Share
If the student chooses to share within school his or her peers may begin to appreciate the additional challenges their classmate faces and the extra help and support that they can provide.
It may increase empathy and smooth the way forward.
A personal perspective from a student is, “once you tell others, the burden of making social blunders is lifted, making school life and interactions easier”
Some of the peers may consider being a class or course mentor, supporting the student as they can
- Repeat, review and clarify classroom instructions
- Act as a partner between student and others
- Be aware of sensory needs and remind the student to incorporate their and coping strategies
- Support with communication needs
- Assist with organisation and time management
- Help with the Structuring of written assignments
- Support with problem-solving
- Help negotiate the social and hidden curriculum
However, it may also result in a negative or prejudiced reaction, which may happen anyway as
- Negotiating the teenage world is very difficult
- Peers can be less accepting at this age
- It may not be deemed cool to be quirky.
Either way, students need to be supported by considerate and concerned teachers and parents to help them negotiate school life and teenage years.