For Autism Acceptance Week we launched our Everyday Equality campaign to highlight the obstacles facing autistic people in their daily lives.

That doesn’t stop when Autism Acceptance Week ends.

So we’ve put together a six-point manifesto based on what our contributors told us about their experiences of education.

It’s what we believe every school, college and university should do to work towards equal access to education for all.

Small changes can make a big difference.

1. Tackle bullying

We talked to a wide variety of people, and everyone had been bulled at school, from name-calling to death threats. “Autistic” has become a catch-all insult at a lot of mainstream schools.

We want to see schools do much more to promote the understanding of difference, listen to pupils if they say they’re being picked on, and act on it.

As you get older and talk to other autistic people, you realise that it's not us, a whole group of people, that are in the wrong. There are just individuals who want to pick on people that are different and make you feel really small and like you don't belong

- Lauren Gilbert, student

The bullying, including a death threat, which was considered just my perception, ruined me inside and shattered any confidence I had

- Jay, 24 

2. Make sure support plans are implemented

It’s one thing to draw up a support plan for a pupil or student – but it’s worthless if staff don’t put it into practice consistently. A survey found that only 21% of disabled students were getting the support they were legally entitled to.

We want to see schools, colleges and universities bring in quick and accessible systems to ensure staff read and implement support plans, with checks and follow-ups in place.

Due to a lack of self-regulating mechanisms in the sector, the law is not currently being enforced. The consequence is that many autistic students either drop out or complete their degree with significant damage to their health, leaving them in a poor condition to continue on to the job market

– Mette Anwar-Westander, Disabled Students UK founder 

3. Training for all school, college and university staff

Staff should understand autism, sensory needs, anxiety and masking in order to be able to support neurodivergent learners.

We want to see neurodiversity-affirming training for all staff in schools, colleges and universities, from senior management down and including school escorts.

Teachers are given no additional training on supporting children with additional needs. You might get one lecture during teacher training

– Marianne Allan, headteacher of Cambois primary school 

4. Concentrate on wellbeing, not just academic results

Just because an autistic or neurodivergent child appears to be coping academically and isn’t disruptive, doesn’t mean they’re OK. They could be struggling socially, mentally or with sensory overload, and might be masking to cover it up.

We want to see schools focus on wellbeing as well as exam results, and make sure the environment and the curriculum are right for all children.

I struggle socially, I don’t struggle academically. But for some reason people seem to think that’s one and the same

– Lauren Osborne, graduate

From the constant noise, bright lights and many other forms of sensory overloads that I was experiencing, to the lack of understanding, I would mask all day, which resulted in meltdowns happening at home - something school never saw

– Jay, 24

5. One size doesn’t fit all

The Equality Act (2010) recognises that autistic and disabled people are at a significant disadvantage, and that schools, colleges and universities must make reasonable adjustments to mitigate that. The key word here is “reasonable” – autistic people are not asking for red-carpet treatment, and it’s not giving them an unfair advantage. Trust young people and their families that they know how they study and learn best.

We want the focus to be on changing the environment, not the young person.

I struggle with hand-eye coordination and was always told at school I couldn’t write. But since I’ve been home educated and am allowed to type instead, I’ve written 4,000 words of a book!

– Z, 13, pupil

Why in schools are we obsessed with the most ridiculous rules that make no difference to learning whatsoever? In my school, if we do it, it’s because we think it makes a difference. If not, we don’t do it

– Marianne Allan, headteacher

6. Above all, listen

Families often tell us they’re made to feel like “fussy parents” when they try to speak to teachers or heads about what their child needs. Pupils say they don’t always feel validated when they raise a sensory needs issue – like, say, an item of uniform making them feel ill – or complain about bullying. Students say academic staff can become defensive when they try to ask for adequate support. But families and learners know best what they need.

We want to see schools, colleges and universities make a conscious effort to listen to the thoughts and experiences of autistic learners and their families and consult with them openly and honestly on how things are going.

As a parent of two autistic sons myself, the thing that’s made the biggest and most immediate difference is when a school listens and has an open-door approach -  saying ‘this has happened today’ or throwing their hands up and saying ‘we maybe could have done that differently', or ‘thanks for letting us know about that’. The most important thing for any professional is to listen to the child and their parents

– Marianne Allan, headteacher

My message for Autism Acceptance Week? Shut up and listen! It’s the main thing. We can tell you what we need, but if you don’t listen then it’s no surprise that things don’t go well

– Z, 13. pupil


Join our campaign for Everyday Equality