Photo of a teenage boy outside, smiling (Alex Marshall) with quote

School can be a bit of an academic and social minefield, whether you are on the spectrum or not. However, getting the right education may be even more of a challenge for autistic people, who often learn and socialise in a different way to their non-autistic peers.

This World Autism Awareness Week, we caught up with Alex Marshall, autistic teenager and star of our first ever TMI campaign video. We spoke to Alex about school, being the face of our most successful campaign yet, and what schools can do to support their autistic students.

When did you get your diagnosis and why?

Between Year 2 and Year 3. It was led by my parents with support from my school.

What is being autistic like for you and what challenges do you face?

My autism largely affects my sensory experiences. I wouldn’t say that I’m more ‘sensitive’ to sensory experiences, but rather that slight differences might affect me more or be more noticeable. It’s taken a long time for me to get used to certain smells, and I sometimes struggle with filtering out background noise.

I might also sometimes struggle with learning and understanding social and facial cues. I definitely think I learned social cues and norms later than most, and even now aren’t ‘fully up-to-date’ with people my age on that front.

I definitely think I learned social cues and norms later than most.

What do you like about being autistic?

I struggle to categorise things I enjoy about my life and my mind into being because of my ‘autism’ or my ‘non-autistic’ self. I’m not 100% sure how much influence my autism has over the things I enjoy or like.

Are there any autistic people out there who you admire?

Greta Thunberg is a great example of an autistic young person using their voice in a really positive way, and I think she’s someone we can all learn a lot from.

Greta Thunberg is a great example of an autistic young person using their voice in a really positive way.

How did you feel about being in the TMI film?

It was really great. The filming itself was really fun, and being the face of the campaign was a great experience that I’ve learned a lot from.

What did your friends/family/school think about the film?

Everyone I’ve talked to has been really supportive.

What difficulties do you think autistic young people face at school?

I think it’s different for every autistic student. Some issues often mentioned by autistic students include high levels of anxiety associated with change, challenges with communication and processing and sensory issues. For me, anxiety around social interactions is a big issue.

How can schools, teachers and other students help autistic students?

Again, I think it’s really important to make changes based on the autistic person as an individual, as some things that would be super helpful for one autistic student might be unhelpful for another.

I think it’s really important to make changes based on the autistic person as an individual.

It’s also important to keep reviewing what support the student is receiving regularly, so it continues to be in line with their needs, which may shift over time.

Some things that are generally considered helpful include taking extra time to explain things, avoiding an overreliance on body language and facial expressions and celebrating World Autism Awareness Week.

The student may also require additional support in social interactions. Making sure their classmates understand this could help. These may not be helpful for every autistic student. To reiterate, the most important thing is to give support based on the individual’s specific needs.

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