I’m not sure how I survived in school until I was 13, but at that point I sort of crashed and after that I just couldn’t get back in. Most people assume I’ve had no education, because I’ve not been able to do exams, but actually, I’ve taught myself and learnt lots.
Not surprisingly, school can be a challenging environment for someone with PDA, although the hardest part can be just waking up and getting into school! All autistic people can struggle if the environment isn’t right, and PDA is no exception. If you are at school or college it is good to be clear about what helps or doesn’t help. And if you are not able to be in school, well you are not alone.
Here are some thoughts on managing education … and also the family life – school page may be helpful.
Julia: No school environment worked particularly well for me, but the best was a Pupil Referral Unit where the headmistress was fully on board, and I had a TA who I really liked. The PRU worked well – it allowed me control but in a controlled way. You could award yourself credits as well as the staff awarding you credits, and what you earned in the morning could get you rewards that same afternoon so there was no delay. This really worked for me, and also taught me an important life lesson, you have to learn how to give yourself credit for what you do. Whilst it wasn’t perfect it worked out OK, I felt accepted and understood, I had no exclusions and stayed until I was 16.
Post 16 I tried to get a diploma in pre-school practice. I did my observations and work placement but couldn’t write up the reports so I failed. I knew what I had seen and done, what the objectives and outcomes were, but I didn’t see the point in others knowing. No one could give me a good reason why I should have to write it up. The red tape annoyed me. I tried hair and beauty courses but got bored. I tried computing courses but I knew it all already.
I think for school to work all the staff have to have awareness and know what they’re dealing with – a dinner lady can rapidly undo everything a TA has been working on all morning. Everyone needs to be on the same page.
Riko: For me, school wasn’t too bad, I didn’t like it but it was better than being at home. I had no idea what I was doing in school, I didn’t even know what homework was when I was in high school, I basically drifted through school in a daze, masking the whole way. I have a HNC, even though doing the course made me extremely ill the idea of having to explain why I quit was worse than just putting up with all the headaches, sickness, depression and self-loathing.
My tip to parents is to recognise when your child needs help and step in, because chances are we won’t ask. Education is an awful system of rules and demands that don’t equate to the rest of the world, if you can avoid the whole thing then I’d recommend doing so. It’s not worth the damage it can afflict on the human psyche.
Sally: I got on terribly at school. I absolutely hated it. It felt like a completely unfair eleven-year prison sentence. The constraint of having to be there and stay put in classrooms felt unbearable. Set subjects felt like demands and I found them completely uninteresting. As a child I found many things magical and full of interest, but any glamour evaporated as soon as things became compulsory subjects. I was undiagnosed dyslexic and dyspraxic as well, which didn’t help and, perhaps worst of all, I had major social problems with my peers. I really wanted to be liked, but they kept me at arms’ length and I didn’t know why.
I didn’t used to have meltdowns at school. I was too timid. Instead, I used to lose myself in intense daydreams and skip school as often as I could.
I scored much better in my final exams than my predicted grades, but still failed by a long shot to achieve as much as I did in later life at college and university.
I dropped out of numerous college courses after leaving school. I like learning and was repeatedly drawn to enrol in classes which then started feeling like demands, so I’d quit. I managed to get three A-levels at a further education college and later, aged thirty, went on to university followed by a fully paid scholarship to Australia for a year.
I later trained to be a person centred counsellor. I got up to level 4, which was very demanding, but dropped out after the first term.
I think I did so well in adult education because I was given autonomy and it was my choice to attend or not. I find sitting in lectures and classes excruciating, but have managed to sit through them by repressing my demand avoidance drive to flee. I do, though, find it impossible to keep quiet during classes. I always have a lot to say. I can’t just accept things I’m told, I automatically think up exceptions to rules and feel compelled to voice them. I have been surprised when lecturers have fed back to me that they have valued my input and thought I would go far in life.