College: to leave or not to leave?

Can I ask everyone’s opinion on the issue of permanently leaving education? And if anyone can share their experience of this?

my son is temporarily out of college due to mental health problems. He is autistic and he has Selective Mutism in educational settings. The stress of the pandemic, the lockdowns meaning he was out of college for a long time and other life events have meant that when he returned to college he found it more difficult to cope with than ever (and he has always seriously struggled with school and college). His social anxiety was extreme and he found going back to having Selective Mutism in the college environment virtually unbearable. We asked for more help and support from the college but they weren’t able to offer much more - certainly no specialist support of any kind. So he stopped going in - and then they said he couldn’t return this year as he’d already missed too much of his course. He was relieved really because he couldn’t face going back at this point anyway. 

the idea is that he will start again at the same college in September. But today he has said that he doesn’t want to go back at all. The problem is he doesn’t know what else to do instead of going back to college. I don’t really know how to advise  him or where to go for advice to try to help him. 

I’m not sure of what other educational options there are (or where to find out about them, and I also don’t know how he would get on out of education altogether. Could it be a case of ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’? He’d certainly lose his EHCP - and that worries me as it seems to be the only protection he has in terms of using it to get help or support. 

I feel so confused - and so does he. Part of me worries that he’s just withdrawing from the world to avoid anxiety - and I know from my own experience (I’m autistic too) that the more you withdraw from the world the more frightened and isolated you become. I don’t want him to end up hiding from everything as I know he won’t be happy doing that because he’s told me that he really wants friends, a girlfriend, a life. 

Has anyone else had experience of this sort of situation? What did you do? 


  • Hi Kate,

    At least he knows he’s got a very supportive mum…

    firstly the ECHP can be extended until age 25 abs it’s not just educational settings it’s about support although his social worker will attempt to persuade you / tell you they’re ending the ECHP so request a review and challenge it listing ALL aspects he needs support outside the educational setting? This can include; socialising, professional appointments, accessing community services etc 

    If education has failed your son on account they will not provide the support he needs to attain a qualification GCSE, A-Level or vocational subject then contact a educational lawyer or at least initiate  a complaint explaining what’s happened, why it’s gone wrong and the support your son needs to succeed. Research uk law SEN and autism act inc. the autism strategy and human rights and list relevant legal obligations.

    Requesting a new college with Substantial  support put in place prior to starting..remember if he needs support to build friendships list it! 

    if they continue to refuse go to LGO local government ombudsman then from there you’ll need a educational lawyer to proceed to court action..

    I am aware of one mother in Telford who was awarded for her daughter £500,000 compensation plus a £200,000 per year placement at a private me she like rubbing peoples nose in it!! 

    Does he have a care plan in place (care (act) assessment which details the type of support he needs? Don’t worry about ‘care contributions’ from his PIP as I have developed a DRE calculator that will reduce it to a low or zero amount!! 

    All the Best


  • As an autistic Adult who hated school too, i found that being autistic and not have specialised qualification in any chosen subject has limited me to working in some really awful entry level employment opportunities most of which refused or couldn't make any reasonable adaptions' and left me broken. I'm only 25 but i have had 25+ jobs most of which were filled with awful human beings.

    Have you tried another college or form of education like an apprenticeship.

  • Thank you so much for this reply Jamie - it’s really helpful. I need to think about all you’ve said here. Sometimes we just feel overwhelmed by it all - because myself and my husband (and my eldest son too) are all autistic we do struggle to navigate all of this. My youngest son has never got the level of help he really needed throughout his whole education - ever since he developed Selective mutism when he started school at four and a half. He’s been poorly served by the system - and now his mental health is poor because of years of struggle. 

    its not been about education for us as a family for years - it’s just become us trying to see if my son can be happy. He’s not happy now - that’s for sure. 

    I’m so grateful for your advice - as we’ve started to ‘give up’ (both my son and myself) and I know we shouldn’t. My son deserves a life that is fulfilling and that he can enjoy. We are just very tired and cynical at this point. He has depression and it’s very hard to engage him in conversations about his options (and to be honest I’m not clear what his options actually are). 

    I will think about all you’ve said.

    thank you Pray

  • Kate,

    You’re doing brilliant and a fantastic mum..I have one battle left to take on Shropshire Council for the years of neglect towards me and other poor practice…I intend on proceeding to civil court and use how I’ve been treated to benefit the majority of autistic people to be given support, guidance and protection and it should never be a case of “money” as we didn’t ask to be born “autistic” or even be born in a NT society so why are we treated so appalling on all counts…

    all the best 


  • Hi Blue, yes - this is my fear. My son is very intelligent but in terms of skills for employment I think he will struggle. Talking to people for example is a huge problem for him. Also things like organisational skills, time keeping, handling money, dyspraxic type issues. He couldn’t travel to work on public transport on his own either. So many things that would make many workplaces problematical for him. Deep down I think education is more suitable in one way (because at least in principle they are meant to be supporting him) - whereas in the workplace they will be more demanding of him and if he doesn’t fulfill what’s being asked of him he will ‘get into trouble’ which he has always hated the idea of. He’s very sensitive to feeling that he’s failed or let people down. 
    At the same time his Selective Mutism is in educational settings - so I can see why he is sick and tired of educational settings for that reason alone. 

    it breaks my heart because he is the most wonderful, kind, funny, and beautiful person - he so DESERVES a good life. People don’t see who he really is at college because he cannot relax there at all, and can’t speak there at all.  
    I have to try and find some way forward for him. His mental health is severely suffering at the moment - I feel so very worried about that,  He says he cannot see a future for himself. He’s having CBT over the phone with the NHS but it doesn’t seem to help. He’s in serious need of things that will boost his mental health. 

    I’m sorry that you have also struggled with school and now work. What are the answers for autistic adults? I really don’t think there’s enough support for adults - it feels like it’s ‘sink or swim’ - and that you only get help when you reach complete crisis point (and probably not even then).

    both myself and my son are shattered to be honest. 

    sending you best wishes and solidarity - I hope you can eventually find work that is fulfilling and that suits you. 
    thanks :) 

  • Oh Jamie - you obviously really know what it’s like! I’m sorry - because it’s an awful thing to go through. I wish you all the best and that you feel some sense of justice being done - in whatever form that takes for you. We’ve had many battles too. We took our complaint (one of them anyway) to the ombudsman (many years ago now)  - and ‘won’ - but ultimately it was no victory at all - because the damage had already been done to my son’s well being and education. They paid us just over £1000 - almost an insult really. 
    My son is still paying the emotional and psychological price with his mental health. 
    All he probably needed was a small amount of specialist support implemented really early on in his school life and his Selective Mutism could probably have been treated very effectively. And then good, consistent  support for day to day issues relating to his autism - nothing major, just a bit of support. We exhausted ourselves trying to get that for him for YEARS. 

    Thank you for your very kind words and solidarity - it means a huge amount Pray

    You deserved better, and so did my son.  

  • As someone who been through cognitive behavioural therapy doesn't help autistic people, even when it adapted it does very little for those on the spectrum. It's not our outlook or thought that give us anxiety is societal and environmental factors that triggers anxiety and stress you can't reprogram yourself to tolerate sensations that cause discomfort or pain. . 

    Mindfulness is also dangerous and a lot of the technique can cause someone with sensory dysfunction to hurt themselves. in some cases autistic individuals have gotten sick from taking cold showers and splashing cold water in their face and even become over stimulated and meltdown.    

    No, the authority's will not act until a crisis and he threatens the health of others, i just the way it is.

    They're is help but it all locked and hidden and inaccessible unless you request and undergo a needs assessment. only then will they sign post and financial increase the amount of financial support in aiding with education. but it's a process and sometime you get stuck with the most awful case worker.   

  • I can see what you mean about CBT and why it is less likely to work for autistic people.

    The college mentioned a Social Services assessment but to be honest we didn’t want to do that as we don’t really trust these sorts of services. I know someone who (years ago) had social services become involved when their parents marriage was breaking down and my friend has not a songle good word to say about social services. He’s normally a very gentle and calm person but you can see him tensing up when he talks about the social workers and how they made his family situation worse - not better. 

    Also my son hates to be pushed into things, he hates the idea of assessments and things like that - after so many years of bad experiences with Ed Psychs etc. He want to Camhs at one point and they really upset him by pushing him (or trying to push him) into things he wasn’t comfortable with. 

    we’ve just lost trust to be honest. Too many bad experiences. I’ve seen awful things on tv about social services too. The last thing we need is people intruding into our lives and telling us what to do. 

  • How old is your son?

    I'm wondering two things: might there be a distance learning option for him? A course online, where maybe he can correspond rather than talk to a tutor or class mates

    Meanwhile, he does need to poke his nose out doors sometimes. You can't supply everything forever. Maybe your GP could get him a social prescriber to put him in touch with or get him involved with some social a activity he won't find too overwhelming...easy does it to coax him out. That might also improve his mental well being.

  • Thanks Dawn. He’s 20. we could look at a course online - but it’s very hard to get him to engage with academic work of any kind at the moment. His course at college was part practical and part academic - and he liked the practical aspects much more than the academic aspects. 
    We do get out for walks most days. I’ve never heard of a ‘social prescriber’ - what is that exactly? 
    Volunteering seems like a good idea but when I suggest anything like that he says he doesn’t want to. It’s very difficult - everything I suggest that involves meeting people on any level makes him really anxious and he won’t consider it. Which I understand (because he has so much social anxiety) but it’s a vicious circle isn’t it? 
    I worry that such a reclusive life is going to become a habit for him that will be very hard to get out of. At the moment I’m just trying to make sure that we get out of the house and go to places so that he has some variety in his environment and is around some people - even if he’s not talking to them.