Three things that happen when your autistic child is different at home and at school

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I am going through a very difficult time with my son. This morning he was carried to his taxi by my husband and myself kicking and screaming. He was stressed, his sister terrified and I was anxious and worried.
I haven’t called the school and asked if he is ok because I know what they will say.
He is not like that in school

Reports from school don’t marry with the child at home at all. In school he conforms, is settled and appears happy. At home he can be violent, unpredictable and highly distressed. This creates some problems for school, home and professionals. The great divide between home and school is a huge challenge and I am not alone in struggling with this.

When my autistic child is different in school it makes parents feel they are to blame.

When the common denominator for the challenging behaviour and meltdowns is home it is all too easy for professionals and schools to jump to the conclusion that bad parenting is to blame. We are accused of lack of discipline, lack of stability, lack of structure, feeding our children the wrong food and even not loving them enough! Just because a child has the ability to ‘hold it together’ in a very controlled environment all day and releases the lid on their frustrations, stressed and anxieties at home does not mean home life is awful. In fact the opposite is true! If a child did not feel secure, loved and safe they would continue to ‘hold it together’ at home for fear of releasing their true feelings.
Instead of blaming parents, schools and professionals should be more understanding of the difference between home and school and more willing to listen when their ‘perfect’ child is presenting totally different outside the school gates.

When my autistic child is different in school it makes accessing support very challenging.

So many parents know their child needs support from CAMHS or social work or speech and language but continually get denied these services due to presentation within a school setting. It is frustrating and damaging for so many children who put on a front within the classroom but who inside are screaming out for help. The system is loaded too much to the side of education where if referrals are put in from schools these are readily accepted yet a parent refers to the same service and the referral is often refused. There is still a huge assumption in the system that if a child truly had problems these would manifest in all settings the same. So parents get left to pick up the pieces of broken children by themselves with little support and hundreds of vulnerable children fall through the system because they are ‘good’ in school.
Perhaps if schools spoke to children or were more aware of stresses within the classroom environment for children with autism like noise, lights and the stress of conforming all day they may be more willing to support referrals for children who seem like Jekyll and Hyde.

When my autistic child is different in school it appears I am lying.

I have been at the meeting when all eyes are on me and I know they think I am lying, or at best exaggerating. I should never have to do it but I have resorted to videos and photographs of my child at times to prove that what I say actually happened. Would staff at school have to do this if the opposite was true and he was angelic at home but violent in school? Everyone at the meeting would be jumping in to support the teacher or school support staff if they were scratched or bitten or pushed by my son but as his mother it is seen as outrageous that I accept this behaviour at home. When I mention strategies we have put in place to help support my child at home and how these are not working some days they once again assume I am lying. It makes parents feel so alone, so belittled and unworthy. We already feel like a failure and those feeling are just made worse when schools give more and more examples of wonderful behaviour at school in answer to every incident at home that is mentioned. He punched his sister at home but shared his pencils with another child in school the same afternoon! He had a complete meltdown over homework yet got full marks in his spelling test the same day! It can be the same child and the sooner professionals and schools understand this the better for everyone. Have they never been professional and polite to someone in their job only to go home and let off steam by moaning at their husband or shouting at a driver who cuts them up?

I know what it is like to see my child happy, flappy and a delight to be with. I also know how hard it is for him and myself to see him so distressed he can not control what he is doing. Like thousands of other autism parents I experience the great divide, the Jekyll and Hyde of autism, on a daily basis.

Put me into different environments like an interview, a prison, a party or a holiday and you will see me change to suit my environment. My child with autism is no different.

I need people to see this and understand.

169 thoughts on “Three things that happen when your autistic child is different at home and at school

  1. This is my son, we still have no asd diagnosis because of this. We have a dyspraxia and dyslexia diagnosis aswell as them saying he has severe emotional dysregulation. Why is is so hard for them to listen to me that he is autistic.

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  2. My Son is now 19.5. I had years of ‘Professionals’ telling me he wasn’t as bad as I was saying. His Sister at 3.5 was so covered in bite marks at one point that every day I had to tell the nursery school which bite marks were new. She is now 16 and paying the price for being his punch bag for years, I once told a Social Worker I was willing to sacrifice my son to Social Care for me to save my daughter from irreversible damage.
    Still nothing was done. After she had taken 2 overdoses at just 13 we were finally re assessed and my Son was granted Respite care of one afternoon a week and one weekend a month. It was too little way too late.
    He now lives in an AMAZING supported living house. He is thriving and happy. We are still picking up the pieces of years of physical and mental abuse. I’m glad my Son is now in a happy, safe environment for him. Just wish my daughter’s needs had been listened to quicker.

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  3. OMG my daughter was excactly the same at primary she’s now 34 we found out she was abused at school by a teacher female sellotaped her mouth her hands to a seat squeezed her face pulled her hahair for Two years we never knew

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  4. Currently experiencing this with my 7 year old daughter who is very clever and a little angel in school. But at home is having melt downs over everything. Anxiety and ocd too. I am Currently getting support from school just, and they are reviewing by daughter on one to one meetings in school during school day once a week to do the assessments. Then will see if needs referral to appropriate people. It is a long process which is no good on the child in the meantime as I struggle at home with her.

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  5. I found that my son with asd was exactly the same he would keep his school anxieties bottled up till he got home. he refused to go and would say on most mornings that he didn’t want to go to school. We found that he couldn’t hold his frustrations in anymore and school found out how difficult his behaviour could be I still found they still was picking fault with our parenting skills. At the ended I had enough and the school apologised and admitted that they could have handled things better.

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  6. Pingback: When your child is different at home and at school – Jekyl and Hyde | The Family of 5's Journey

  7. My daughter is like this. When we went to camhs with the evidence they jumped on me saying I should not be doing that as it is negative to my daughter. Never mind the fact that she self harms and has tried wrapping things round her neck before. They are more interested in sending me on yet another parenting course.

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  8. So relieved that we’re not alone in this!
    Our 8 year old daughter is like a ticking bomb, her anger is so awful she’s started getting violent with us at home and she has two younger brothers that are getting in the line of fire more often.
    We’re in the process of getting an ADHD diagnosis (we hope!) through CAHMS, and she’s has been classed by them as a ‘complex’ child, but we still haven’t had any practical help, apart from suggestions from the psychologist.
    She’s got sensory processing challenges, impulse control, huge emotional dysregulation issues. We’re worried for the effects on her mental health of all the huge anger episodes, as well as her brothers (2 and 6yrs), who are starting to copy phrases and reactions.
    Our biggest confusion is that she can hold it together at school (was the same at nursery) but comes home and it can start as soon as I arrive at the playground, on the way home, or once her ‘will’ is interfered with.
    Its exhausting and so isolating when no-one else can really understand what life is like!
    We too have daily meltdowns before school, and have tried to film/record whats going on just so we can show professionals, or relatives if it comes to it (although its horrible to think of showing them her like that).
    We wondered if she may have ODD, and someone from Amaze (charity) recently said some of what described sounded like they were typically seen in ASD.
    We’re waiting for a classroom assessment at the moment, but thankfully not everything hinges on that!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. The same is true of adopted or fostered children who have previously suffered trauma and who do not feel secure enough to show their feelings at school but let them all out when they get home.

    School won’t give extra support because ‘nothing is wrong ‘ they don’t get that the child is holding it all in and the strain is so much it bursts out when they get home.

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  10. Sorry to hear this, we too went through this – 4 years of not being believed, understood, supported. Until our child started self harming in a toxic school environment! CAMHS said the self harm wasn’t enough! We had to seek private help! Our son is now diagnosed as ADHD, ASD , high anxiety and multiple sensory needs. He is in a school that understands and fully supports him and is a completely different child, happy in himself and for the most part coping.

    It is so important that you trust your own instincts here, you are the parent! You do know what your child needs! And let’s renember not to judge, you don’t know what some one else is going through, help not hinder!

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  11. You have hit the nail on the head. This is the issue I am having with my son! We are still to get an ASD diagnosis but because he holds it together at school no one sees an issue. I’m going to fight this to the end!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Both my boys have diagnosed adhd and all the professionals and school all said the same he dosnt behave lie that at school!!! Well it made me feel like i was a complete failure and still to this day both boys find managing tempers difficult .. its very hard to support an additional needs chil when your fighting the system

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I so needed to be reminded of this today.
    I’m constantly being blamed some days i believe it’s my fault. That I’m a failure, the problem.

    I wish professionals would accept this.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Hi. I am a Mum to my three year old Son. I have exactly this with his behaviour at home but not at Playgroup or when he is with a family relative or friend. His behaviour is all I can describe as being out of control majority of the time at home and when he is with myself, his Dad or older Brother. Screaming melt downs, hitting out etc. The list goes on. Nothing was picked up in his two year development check with the health visitors, although I did raise concerns to his behaviour. Could someone please point me in the right direction as to how I go about getting a Autism Screening test for my Son? It is so hard to know what is a Child just being a child and when there is more to it than that. Thank you. Naomi.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, I don’t know what country you live in but here in the UK you would start by mentioning your concerns to your health visitor or GP who would then refer to speech and language and start the ball rolling.
      It us hard to know but rest assured you are not alone ❤️

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      • Thank you so much. He has already had a referral for Speech and Language and we have attended our sessions. However there seems no change in his behaviour, I am based in the UK. (Gloucestershire) so I shall book in with my GP or Health Visitor soon. Thank you again, it feels very daunting atm as I don’t know what to think or feel on it all. Just nice to talk to other people in the same boat.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. I am a single mom with 7 children, 3 of which present just like this and are labeled adhd. How did any of you get help for the home behaviors? my kids are so violent and abusive at home and perfect in school. And I am so tired of reward programs. the state is blamimg me and I am crying for help!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Brilliantly written and I’ve no doubt the person who wrote and shared this will be inundated with similar stories. My take on this the children who (are still suffering) who are in the school environment not coping and are disruptive but angels at home have a similar deal. But the opposite way round. My point ALL parents, children and schools need to work together to make the environment of school truly inclusive.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Hi I’ve been their with my child, problems started at the age of 2 and just put it down to terrible 2’s, but it’s been on going ever since. Hes had CAMHS, speak and language therapy, the lot, hes under a pediatrician now who assessed him and she reckons hes not autistic even though I written her a list with the behaviours I’m having at home but not at a school setting. She diagnosed him with ADD over a year ago as he slightly went over the mark for the ADHD test he had. He has severe learning difficulties and his mental age is between 5-6 but hes 10 years old. He started a specialist school in august and they have offered to support me and my son, and hopefully will attend our next pediatric appointment this month. My step brother has autism and I watched him grow up so I know what to be aware off and my son is exactly the same. Hopefully one day we will get a diagnosis, a mothers instinct is always right. He has meltdowns when a plan has changed, he doesnt make eye contact during a conversation, he has outbursts and breaks things in temper. Has weird obsessions, doesnt sleep at night. The list goes on.

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  17. Thos to true this is where I’ve bern with my 7 year old son undiagnosed his last school implied myself and my husband were causing emotional harm and destess to our child and subjected ting him to unnecessary assessments, and mental health didnt exist but poor parenting does. He started new school sept 19, they have seen glimpses but nothing like I have the minute hes out of the classroom. I’m having to physically hold him in a,resistant to get him through the gates then with on until hes in the building. The struggle is real ..today I spoke to the senco and said I’m no longer forcing my son into school as I’m his safe person and me forcing him in is damaging the relationship. Tomorrow I am meant to verbally prompt my son into school , I’ve told him I’m not dragging him, holding him he needs to go in nicely! Like this is going to happen!

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  18. This is sooooooooo true. My little granddaughter is Autistic and everything that I have read here is proving to be the same for our daughter and granddaughter. The system is totally unfair and something must be done to rectify this.

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  19. Fantastic article. Obvs not fantastic for you or any of you. I say this with much experience and empathy- not an ounce of judgement!

    We’re still living this rollercoaster but I Like how you’ve articulated the daily struggles and ‘hidden’ disparity.

    Keep going, you’re doing great! Love s xx

    Liked by 1 person

  20. You could be writing about my son. He is 12, diagnosed with ASD, ADHD, anxiety, we are under social services due to the amount of aggression at home and the impact on his sister who is also ASD. I really feel for you, its always the parents fault and we have to fight tor every little bit of support. I wish you calm. If you need to sound off or chat to someone who is walking the same road shout x

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  21. For anyone who is in this situation or even thinks they might be……I didnt know this was possible even while I was telling my son’s teachers, every year since reception, that the child they had in school was not the one we have at home! And none of the teachers thought this indicated a problem. His anxiety worsened as the years went on and though we knew the transition to secondary school would be difficult, we had no idea how bad it would be! It was very clear from the start of secondary school that his issues went way beyond ‘normal’ anxiety and he is now on the ASD diagnosis pathway….whether diagnosed or not we know that this is why he finds every day life so difficult. I wish someone had suggested ASD to me as it would have helped us so much. Even now, without a diagnosis, us tackling every issue as if my 13 year old boy has ASD, has improved our lives no end and has helped my son so much. High functioning ASD kids are good at masking their symptoms and schools tell parents that they are ‘fine’ in school. This is so wrong….my son was never ‘fine’ in primary school, I just didnt know this. His secondary school vice principal recently suggested to me, as many have done before, that he is ‘fine’ in school….I set her straight…I know better now! He is never ‘fine’. His school day is a torture that he finds ways to cope with to varying degrees of success! I feel so bad that I have known for years that things werent right but I didnt have the knowledge to know what was wrong! 😦

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  22. Children always behave differently at home than they do at school. If they’ve managed to hold it together all day at school then their feelings explode when they reach their ‘safe space” and are with people they feel secure enough about their relationship with to let what they are feeling show. X

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  23. I have cried my way through reading this with the realisation that I’m not going mad or just a “bad, incompetent parent”and am not the only person to experience the pain and distress of this torturous situation. Please could you send me a copy of this article to show our school/Cahms/social worker. They keep suggesting I need to sort MY ANXIETY out.
    Total insult! Who wouldn’t be anxious in this situation? My son won’t tolerate my daughter in the same room as him at home yet talks to her outside of the home? If he hears her speak in the home he screams/bangs walls and has to wash numerous times. We have to hide all her possessions from his sight, photos of her are covered over. It’s heart breaking.

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  24. I have seen about this “cocaine cola” bottle experience before, and have pointed it out to a number of people I know.
    The symptom is very similar to a pressurised bottle in a school bag, if you don’t allow it to be disturbed, then nothing will happen until you get home and allow the pressure to release, including which case the child “goes off like a bottle of pop”!!
    If you have a child with problems similar to this, then PLEASE give them an hour or so, relaxa9tion time after school.
    As far as having the difference with behaviour at home and at school, most people have some form of recording instrument, computer camera, security cameras or even your phone
    Record the problems being experienced so that you DO have proof of the difficulties you face and can present them as evidence to doctors, social services etc etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cocaine cola should,of course read coca cola bottle. Isn’t modern predictive text wonderful?
      And relaxa9tion time should read relaxation time.

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  25. I totally agree my son is different at home to school he’s been under cahms since2007 and cahms are thinking it’s something to do with me and home life and I carnt get any help for him and his issues

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  26. We are dealing with this as well. I’m having a battle to get my son seen. I also have lack of support from family who also think it’s my bad parenting. So feel I’m doing this alone. My son is lovely but anything can set him off. But anything can set him off.

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  27. hey i know what ur going through myself and my partner are going through this rough time with our 13 year old he is good as gold in school but when he comes home he is a completely different child he gets so angry and frustrated at everything and takes it out in me the verbal abusive i get of him is really bad we have had to have social services involved and they r blaming us for the way we bringing our children up it really does suck when nobody wants to hear what ur saying about ur child at the end of the day we as parents are just looking out for our children and we know what our children needs i just hope things start to settle for u its not a good place to be best wishes for the future x

    Liked by 1 person

  28. I have this same issue and feel like I’m the world’s worst parent. What am I doing wrong when she’s so angry and tearful when she comes home from school. Y is it my fault if a teacher forgot to give her a sticker.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. I am so thankful for reading this, I have been struggling to get help with my daughter for years, she shows signs of struggling in school but not enough for them to help, she has small outbursts of anger in school, but nothing for them to do anything about. I used to get hit, punched, spat on you name it. And to top it off she never slept well or ate well. Now she is getting older she is understanding the impact of her behaviour, but she still has bad days where things get thrown, words get said like I’m nasty and never care about her, she refuses to do homework and when I do finally get her to sit down, it’s still a struggle with crying, shouting, throwing. Yet the school Don t see this. And to top it off she is a hyperactive child with hypermobility so she doesn’t sleep well, bouncing around all the time, never focuses on one thing, but sprains and injuries easily. Yet I still get no help.
    I feel like a bad mum most days. But I know I’m not especially when she is loving and caring towards me, when we go out she is well behaved most the time.
    I have found things like blu tac help like a sensory sort of thing and the cushions to change pictures with sequence. But when the bad days come I feel all alone. And when the good days are here I feel lucky but am secretly awaiting (dreading) for the next outburst. Sorry if that sounds cruel. Wish the was help and understanding for jakel and hyde children cos they matter too.

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  30. How true this is.I have one grandson on the spectrum and another going through the process of diagnosis and it is like reading about them.All day long their frustrations are kept tightly screwed in a bottle with the lid firmly in place until they hit home and the bottle explodes.

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  31. OMG so nice to hear someone else going though this mines exactly the same but mine doesn’t sleep well maybe max 4 hours so up most nights .

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  32. I have been saying this for 5 years with my son but still have no help , no diagnosis or anything the drs have referred repeatedly only to be told school needs to back up my story but like this says he is good in school , he struggles abit academically but he tries hard. It is so frustrating I have been blamed as I’m a single parent . Wish somebody would listen

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  33. This is so true I had all of this with my son when he was at school. Although we never had the violence but totally can relate to everything that you have written. Especially the meeting the teachers / sencos treat you as though you are over protective parent.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. This is my son.
    We are currently in the system and waiting for a diagnosis for sesnory prosessing disorder. But at school there are very few problems and he Controls and manages it very well. Other then issues with uniform 😫. CAMHS arnt interested in what I have to say and only what the school tells them, it’s very frustrating.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. My lg will be 5 next month, 2 years today diagnosed with asd, gdd, the way she is we never dreamed she would settle into year 1 in school so fast even getting into her bus in the morning it was a big relief to see this, especially as she was so bad with separation anxiety, when at the teacher / parent interview her teacher praised her on how well she was doing and she mentioned that when she had read my lgs report she thought it would take some time for her to settle, she said it was line reading a different childs report she thought it was goin to take a long time to get her settled,you kniw this little girl who lashed out, who hurt herself in these mad episodes….unfortunately I have this sane little girl at home, the one that’s in the report, it breaks my heart, and yes we do have routine at home, reward charts etc, don’t get me wrong we have those lovely moments and giggles at the lovely little things she goes, but then out if nowhere the outbursts come, if she doesn’t hurt me she hurts herself. If taken pics of my arms face anywhere that’s been scrabbed bitten slapped and punched…I to only can describe it as Jackyl & Hyde, I already spoke to paediatrician in September and he says give it a short while to see if she settles after being in school for a while. I don’t think I can give it much longer so il be ringing next week. You see I know it’s through frustration from the speech when she’s trying to tell me something I know there will be startling noises she doesn’t like and few other things that can trigger her to lash out, but what about the lashing out they just comes out of the blue, my heart is broke and I need to get the help now before she gets older and worse x

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