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.

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

  1. My child is not autistic. Or so they say! But this is him. At school he is perfect but at home we have lots of problems. At the moment I often find him on the outside window sill upstairs! I don’t know what I can do.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is my life too. My son is 8 and can be aggressive, not listen, be transfixed, has obsessions and more. School said he’s fine in school and want me to record him when he’s frustrated at home but my partner doesn’t want to do that, plus I don’t exactly carry my phone on me! I haven’t even told them he’s tried to strangle another boy πŸ˜‘

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    • Have you thought thatMy son struggles to go to school and gets very aggressive, but I am lucky that we have an excellent SENCO who totally gets it and an excellent teacher who had experience of working with Autism, the school has recently tly opened a breakfast club, which means the only battle I have n^ the morning is washing and dressing he also sees it as different from school.

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  3. This is my struggle… Such an angel at school although attention is flighty. School runs are horrible, pick up just as bad – everything I do or say is wrong and then I have a fight on my hands. I love my daughter dearly but feel I’m somehow to blame for her being so sad/angry/frustrated. She’s 9 now and I’ve been struggling for 7yrs to no avail there is no diagnosis for her because she cannot be assessed and all because of her Jekyll and Hyde personality the school doesn’t not support us.

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  4. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I often feel it’s just our family that feels this way but you have put into words exactly what we battle on a daily basis with so much judgement from everyone we turn to. It’s very comforting to hear that we are not alone in this and that’s enough for us to keep on with the battle that surrounds us.

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  5. this is my life. my son is 6 nearly 7 and can become very aggressive towards me and his younger sister. where at times ive had too restrain him too avoid him hurting himself and others.
    however at school hes alot more chilled but he has got a ta with him keeping him on track.

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  6. I totally empathise with your situation, this was my life with our youngest son for most of his Infant and Junior school life Perfect child in school hours and Meltdown Monster (MM) at home. The feeling of total inadequacies as parents overwhelmed us, until one day Meltdown happened at school – it was a wonderfully enlightening day when the head teacher called me in panic mode. I was so calm and said Hallelujiah finally someone else has seen him as a MM. Finally we started to get some help from other agencies and eventually his Autism Diagnosis, a mild case which is why it took so long to get there but finally HELP. Fast forward 10 years and my 19 yr old son has grown into a wonderful young man who would do anything for anyone, does voluntary work and is a worker not a shirker. His education has been a struggle for ever but he has achieved great things even if not gaining top marks in his GCSE’s (IN UK). The reason for my story is to give you some hope that with help from the right agencies you can and will get there , maybe not in such a direct route as some young people but your child will get there you just have to love them through it and fight for help for them. We also had an older child who i felt guilty for not being there for him as much as I would sometimes have liked and my boys were never friends not in the brotherly sense, my eldest shut himself away in his room to get away from his annoying brother but even that has changed now they talk and share stuff, I don’t think they will ever be best buddies but they can live together quite happily now . Good luck on your journeys with my love and Hugs xx

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  7. As a former teacher of autistic students, I can say that I understand where your struggle comes from. I would have young men come into my classroom and be 100% well behaved and exemplary students. I would hear that they’d go home and explode on parents and siblings and be quite confused. I soon learned that they were holding in all those responses while in the classroom (such self control, ultimately!) and letting it out on people in their safe environment. It was eye opening to know that there could be such a different in actions. I wish you the best of luck with your son’s transitions and adventures; he’s perfect. ❀

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  8. I jus stumbled upon the blog because this post is listed as one of the most popular on wordpress right now πŸ™‚ I run a theology and volunteering blog so it’s a bit outta my realm of expertise but I just want to thank you so much for sharing πŸ™‚

    Great post!

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  9. My 19 year old was diagnosed at 15…too little too late.years of banging my head against a wall in trying to get him help from age 4..nothing has changed in all these years.my youngest is 8 and has shown same red flags since he was 3. I know I will continue to have to fight the system again….

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  10. This rings true so much for me and my wife. Our son thrives on the rigid conformity of school, but they didn’t seem to understand that often events in school trigger meltdowns that are bottled up until he gets home.

    As we are having to wait two years for his diagnosis (which we have been told is nailed on) the school have refused to help, and actively denied access to an EP or any other assistance. They couldn’t seem to fathom that a child could be different at home than at school, and also said the familiar “Well he’s not like that here”. They made my wife and I feel like liars, that we were overreacting or incompetent.

    Even bullying incidents were swept under the carpet as “boys will be boys”.

    Eventually we bit the bullet, and decided to change schools; probably the hardest decision we could make. He’s just finished his first week at the new school and we can already see improvements, but I fear that the scars will be long lasting.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. my 12 year nearly 13 year old boy is terrible at home, he screams, threatens to kill himself if he doesn’t get his own way, is in our faces screaming, it feels all the time, when things aren’t ‘safe’ for him. If we try to talk he tells us to shut up, yet he manages to hold it together with everyone outside of our household. The slightest little hiccup in his life – from someone extra being invited to a social event he has been looking forward to, to a teacher not being at school – can set him off. It is extremely tiring, and soul sucking and hard on your marriage. I think people who don’t have a kid with such issues, believe it is weak parenting. He said ‘stop trying to fix me’ the other night and I was quick to say we love him for who he is and there is no ‘fixing going on’. He has asked us for help and that is why we are helping, at his request. I think their brain goes into such overdrive, they can’t be rational, we just have to let him blow until he calms down. I am learning through my patient husband, not to react/respond, just be calm (as calm as I can be when my heart is racing so fast) and it seems to work eventually. I expect some of us feel so alone; I do,
    in the fact of such adversity. I would just like him to not blow so often!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. My son was exactly the same. He has Asperger’s syndrome and it was an absolute nightmare at home. But when in school he was such a good boy. But I have got though it now all on my own he is now 21 and is working and is a very happy young adult. Xxx

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  13. This is exactly what I am going through! My son is now 12 and we have struggled the last 3 years trying to get someone to believe me what hell myself and my other 2 children are put through on a daily basis. The doctors referred us to CAHMS and they offered family therapy which did nothing as he didn’t want to play ball. The school just laughed at me and the headteacher made me feel belittled that my son did not present anything like this during school hours – she even went as far as saying it was impossible to believe we were talking about the same child. Taking this back now to when he was 5 years old, we lived in Spain. My son attended school there too. The teachers could not cope with him, his defiance and disruptive behaviour- exactly what we were having at home. On one occasion he banged his sisters head on the marble floors and knocked her out. She had to go to hospital for head scans. On advice from the teachers, my father (who we lived with) and I took him to the doctors and with several appointments and basic screening, diagnosed him as being ADHD, prescribed Concerta and within a month we could see huge changes and differences. Even my son knew he felt better and like the other children. Because I became ill, my ex husband decided to bring our son back to the UK as it would ease the strain for me. On doing this, my ex decided to bin the medicine, ditch it – as he said there was nothing wrong with our son! Things have gone from bad to worse, our son has asked, pleaded to have his medicine back , but the doctors refuse because the school papers don’t meet up with my own!! But while my son continues to bully everyone and push them about and have uncontrollable tantrums and even his school friends complain about his behaviour…. I’m stuck in the dark 😒😒

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  14. This is my struggle. My son is 5, an angel at school but at home is a different story, he’s got such a terrible temper and lashes out often towards me he’s dad and he’s sister (she’s 1 year older)… I’m at my wits end, I have no idea what to do anymore, as no one will help as he’s a diamond at school so like u said, me as the parent gets the blame. He was fine most of the 6 weeks holidays but he’s been back to school for 3 days and the behavour has started again.

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  15. I am a full time carer to Autistic young adults and I fully understand where a parent is coming from over this issue ,iv seen it time and time again with education,social workers etc ,I can honestly say I support the parents 100’/. .your friend . sarah

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  16. Honestly, that can be because of them (or him in your son’s case) using up all their energy dealing with sensory issues and interaction at school and feeling that they can have meltdowns at home without being judged more than at school, as well as being very tired after school.
    I’m an autistic adult and I had the bad luck to go to a very noisy school, where in some years I was also bullied. My brain “checked out” when I was in that school or I tried to resist until I came home and had meltdowns.
    It can be something else than the noise or just not having the tools to deal with interactions.
    Or after having dealt with school, the kid is too tired to deal with the noise from neighbors or workers even if there wasn’t any at school, but that’s less likely since you don’t mention noise.
    It’s not because the problem does not seem one until he comes back home that it’s not one, that’s why the teachers, staff, etc. should allow accommodations (ear defenders, visual help with routine and the class schedule, AAC, etc.)
    Also, I don’t know if he is verbal or not, but talking can be very tiring. Sometimes in school you have to talk a lot and using AAC is seen as “bad”. Another thing staff should sort out.

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  17. Thank you for sharing. This is the same with my grandson. He is like night and day from home and school. Of course we blame ourselves or the environment. I am so glad you posted this. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. My struggle is the exact opposite. My 1″ year old son isn’t an angel at home by any means, but has highly aggressive temperamental behavior at school. I wish mine were the other way around. I would much rather be the one that had to deal with the behaviors rather than it occurring at school.

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  19. Our grandson is the opposite. He works well at home but has behavioral issues at school. The schools answer is to suspend him. He is 7 years old and in the 2nd grade.

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  20. This was a great article. We have been dealing with this for a long time. Great at school and severe meltdowns at home. School said she wasn’t autistic. We had our own evaluation with a psychologist that said she was autistic. So glad to read others have the opposite attitudes.

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  21. I know What you feel, my 4 year old son is The same way. One day I got told that he is not autistic just spoiled. I still keep calling to ask if he is ok tho.
    I guess is because they feel more comfortable to be themselves at home.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I keep hearing this from other moms, too, but the school continued to pretend that there’s nothing wrong with my 10 yr old son, until he had some behaviors at school and I wanted to take him out because even the teachers started bullying him! He’s been in school for 2 weeks and his behaviors have regressed already under the strain of all the pressure he feels.

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  23. Hi ,you have summed up perfectly this what so many parents go through everyday and it’s true if anybody else gets hurt all hell breaks loose and if you try and access help your questioned to the lilt , social services have told me my son is not disabled enough and in order for us for a family to access an assement of needs I have to have metal health or abuse him , why do agencies want to help when a family ends up falling apart and not helping prevent things happening and if they do its not Taylored to the child’s individual needs.

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  24. Faithmummy I ADORE your post and you hit the nail right on the head.

    It’s horrendous to hear. Every “your child had an amazing day” and “oh is that a bite mark@ and when you tell them how it got there they roll their eyes like your making up a story.

    I think as professionals they should be taught that they have the “easy ride” and that us parents for lack of a better term are glorified walking talking punchbags!!

    As much as the world is improving, and ignorance is slowly being turned into knowledge it’s not happening fast enough and not in the right places.

    Why am I typing this?

    To let you know I feel you, I know exactly what you’ve written is true. Without the videos and pictures and to tell you to keep going, because you are doing amazing ❀️

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Omg someone else is living my life our daughter is everything in this story but you know what she’s a girl and can’t possibly be on the autistic spectrum, can you guess who is now having to go private just to try and get help as she has had to be taken out of school as they physically restrained her to keep her in school (she’s 8 by the way and apparently just being a brat) but no she can’t be on the spectrum

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  26. Mines the same and no one believes there is anything wrong……it’s all down to me being an evil monster or attention seeker!! The fact that I’ve brought all 6 if my babies up the same way and she’s the only that struggles with life doesn’t count though!

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Pingback: “Professionals Disbelieving Autism Parents” | Planet Autism Blog

  28. I would like all of you to know something. I was told by my son’s psychiatrist when my son was 7 years old, when the melt downs, biting and kicking were at their worst. The psychiatrist said, “Pat yourself on the back. You are doing the most important thing right. Your son knows that after a horrible day of keeping it together at school, that he can come home and fall apart and you will Love him no matter what.” Everyday after that I saw and still see what his meltdowns after school are about. My attitude changed. I also realized that the teachers and parents that saw this great kid during the day, did not have to know about the exhausted kid’s behaviors at home. My son always feels guilty about his meltdowns. He was so fearful that people might find out about his bad behavior. I had to reassure him that although he is responsible for his behaviors and correcting them. The only people that they need to be shared with are his doctor and family. He is now a teenager and meltdowns changed from biting and kicking to “leave me alone ” with a slammed door. Hang in there. Remember You Love your child.

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  29. Thank you for explaining this and for raising awareness. This pattern of behaviour also happens with some children who are not autistic, although the behaviour may be less extreme, so it shouldn’t be a surprise! I’m grateful that you have shared your experiences. It will help other parents in similar situations. Thank you!

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  30. my extremely typical/gifted 3.5YO and 21MO are exactly the same. wouldn’t dare attempt in school the kind of ridiculousness (not following instructions and tantrums over stupidity for the most part) they pull at home on a regular basis. this is human nature.

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  31. Harry is exactly the same. So we’ll behaved in school and is angry and violent at home. But he also happy and talks at home and at school he struggles woth eye contact and doesn’t say much. Luckily his school is supportive and believes me when I say what he is like but it’s still frustrating even though I know why he does it. He’s in his safe comfortable zone at home where as at school he’s still finding his feet.

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  32. I am so incredibly relieved to read this post, for I now know I not alone in this. I too have resorted to showing videos to my daughters kinder teachers, all I hear in response is ‘well she must just get away with more at home’ etc etc. My daughter is also very different when visiting her father so again blame on me. But the truth of the matter is that only when she is with me is she comfortable to express and release all emotions from sometimes two days of build up. I have moments of seeing this angel that others describe but most days it’s an emotional storm of meltdowns, anxiety, hypersensitivity and crying. Our ‘days off’ together are purely picking up the pieces. From the bottom of my heart thank you for writing this as I really needed to read it today

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  33. This is the first blog that I have been on following diagnosis for my 4 year old son. Everything that you say, I can relate to 100 percent. The problem that I have is my child hates change so much so that when I pick him up from nursery is that he screams & shouts that he doesn’t want to go home with me!! They don’t seem to realise that nearly 3 hrs earlier he didn’t want to leave me to go to nursery . I feel like they are looking at me like have hurt my little boy & not taken into consideration that he just cannot cope with change. I keep getting told that nursery/school teachers in UK are more informed & educated for kids with ASD but still they don’t seem to fully understand how hard it is for the parents. Thank you for another lovely & informative post x

    Liked by 1 person

  34. This is so me and my 8 year old daughter ,she is not diagnosed as they don’t see what’s going on, she has learning delay and is anxious all the time and holds it all in at school once out she is totally different , I so wish I could help her when she’s muddled and can’t explain what’s wrong or Evan talk to me , she tries her best as well I do , just to have the help and support outside school would be fab or answers to why this is the way , anyway good luck to all of you and our fab kiddies because that’s what they are

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