Immie Swain’s ‘Signs to Spot Autism’ to be part of school awareness

On today’s Good Morning Britain hosts Susanna Reid and Richard Madeley welcomed back Immie Swain who has been working with the show and the National Autistic Society, plus the Autism Education Trust to produce a video titled “Immie’s Signs to Spot Autism”.

The video will be used in over 24,000 schools in the UK as part of the teachers’ toolkit to help them spot undiagnosed autism in children. A survey for GMB and TES has also revealed 80% of teachers think a lack of autism training has had a direct effect on their pupils’ education, and Immie says her video is one she wishes was around years ago.

Immie opened up about her struggles in school, from people being “quite horrible” to her and how things like loud noises could trigger her. Pre-diagnosis, her father GMB Senior News Correspondent Jonathan Swain admitted he was unaware of the symptoms: “To be honest, we didn’t have any idea at all,” he told Susanna and Richard.

Immie was only diagnosed with autism when she was 15 years old, when she was about to move to her fifth school. She revealed: “Looking back there were so many signs, but nobody spotted them.

“School is exhausting and overwhelming, but we pretend everythings okay. It’s called Masking and it’s draining for our mental health. For an autistic person school is incredibly overwhelming, it takes a lot of energy for us to be there. We’re sensitive to things like light, sounds and smells.

“I would say things like, ‘I need a drink’ or ‘I need to go to the toilet’ but in reality, this was just an excuse for me to leave the classroom. I was overwhelmed and needed time out. This allowed me to recharge, come back in and continue with my work.”

Worryingly, Immie shared:

“When things got too much for me I was often found hiding in the toilets or under the sink. I needed somewhere to go to feel safer and quieter. However, teachers would come up to me and tell me to get back into the classroom.

Sometimes I would have, what teachers would refer to as, ‘inappropriate outbursts of talking.’ This is when I would talk about a subject I was interested in constantly. This was because I was feeling awkward or uncomfortable and the social rules weren’t clear, so I would keep talking about something I was interested in to make myself feel included.

“There would often be times where I wouldn’t talk at all and this was due to the extreme stress brought on by school.”

She added:

“I would often struggle with friendships, which would mean I was isolated from the other children at my school. I would spend my break and lunchtimes reading by myself. One reason that I found break and lunch so stressful was because it was unstructured and I didn’t know what to do with my time. Some children may complain they have a stomach ache and can’t eat. This is all a result of the stress brought on by break and lunch.”

Immie went on:

“I would often panic when there would be a change in my routine at school like a supply teacher or a change in seating plan or somebody coming to sit in my seat. This is because it would throw me off. I wouldn’t be able to concentrate for the rest of my lesson. We like rules and we like sticking to them.”

“Teachers are really important and I’ve met some amazing ones. These people were kind and understanding. At the time, they didn’t know I had autism and neither did I, but they were able to see that I just needed a little bit of help. And I’m especially thankful to these teachers.”

“Some days I just couldn’t go to school. I would cry when I was getting ready and then I would cry when I’d arrived at school. A teacher would try and take me into the classroom and try to help me get settled. I would be having a meltdown. This is a physical condition. I would go grey, shake, throw up and sometimes run away. Sometimes I would run so far that I got lost. In this case I would have to call my parents to help me.”

Further support and advice is available for teachers at the National Autistic Society and the Autism Education Trust.

Good Morning Britain weekdays from 6am on ITV & ITV Hub

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