GMB star reveals daughter’s struggles at 5 schools because no one found out she has autism


Most people expect a health diagnosis from a doctor. Or, if it involves special educational needs, let it be discovered at school. But for years, doctors, psychologists and teachers missed the fact that Immie Swain, daughter of GMB’s Jonathan Swain, was struggling with autism.

In fact, it wasn’t until 15-year-old Immie and her mother, Nicole, read Lisa Jewell’s novel Watching You that the truth came to light. Sensing one of the characters, who has autism, was like her biological daughter, Nicole arranged for a clinical evaluation in November 2019.

Jonathan, 49, said: “Immie was about to start fifth school at the time.

“Now that we know what we know, it is clear that she has autism but no one has found out about it. It can be a lot harder to spot the signs in girls when they’re working hard to try and ‘fit in’ with the people around them.

“In retrospect, we’ve always raised Immie as if she had autism (not understanding if somewhere was too noisy for her or cooking specific foods, for example) but now we diagnose guess that was a huge relief.”

When they knew what to look for, the family, from South West London, quickly realized Immie, now 17, had many of the classic symptoms of the disease.

“Looking back there were a lot of signs, but no one noticed them,” says Immie. “For example, for a school for people with autism to be overwhelming, we need a lot of energy to be there. We are sensitive to things like light, sound, and smell.”

Her family found out she had autism when she was 15 years old


John Angerson)

She went to five schools before it got noticed


John Angerson)

Realizing she could get help sooner if her symptoms were discovered prompted Immie to partner with the National Autism Society and the Autism Education Foundation for Autism Education. They have produced a video titled “Immie’s Autism Signs”, which will be shown on GMB today and used in over 24,000 UK schools as part of a toolkit for children. teacher.

“School has always been difficult for me, exhausting and overwhelming,” says Immie. “There are days when I can’t walk at all. I will cry when I get ready and when I get there. A teacher would try to get me into the classroom and try to get me settled but I would have a hard time.

“I would gray, shake, throw up and sometimes run away. Sometimes I run too far, so I get lost, I have to call my parents to help.”

Things didn’t get any easier on the days Immie sat at his desk. “It took me longer to process the information that was thrown at me,” she explains. “I often try to struggle and instead of looking at the teacher or the board, I will look down or stare at a spot on the wall. This isn’t because I don’t care – it’s actually the opposite. I am concentrating.

“There are usually times when I can’t talk due to the extreme stress brought on by school.”

But the times people with autism speak in class can be equally challenging.

Immie says: “Sometimes I have what teachers call ‘inappropriate talking behaviour’. “I often talk about topics that interest me because I feel awkward or uncomfortable and social norms are not clear.”

School always leaves Immie ‘tired and overwhelmed’


John Angerson)

Any deviation from normal routines can cause problems.

“A teacher offering or changing a seating plan would get me kicked out or even trigger a panic attack,” she said. “I won’t be able to concentrate for the rest of the lesson. [Autistic children] We like the rules and we want to stick with them. ”

Diagnosis is often more difficult because some girls with autism try to hide their struggles.

“People with autism pretend everything is fine,” says Immie. “It’s called ‘masking’ and it’s draining our mental health.

“I would say things like, ‘I need a drink’ or ‘I need to go to the bathroom,’ but in reality this is just an excuse for me to leave the classroom.

“I was overwhelmed and needed time out to recharge, get back in and get on with my work.

“When things get too overwhelming for me, I’m often found hiding in the toilet or under the sink. I needed somewhere to go to feel safer and quieter but the teachers would tell me to go back to class. “

Breaks bring other challenges.

Immie explained: “The playground is not possible for me.

Immie partners with the National Autism Society and the Autism Education Foundation



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“I would struggle with friendships, which meant I was isolated from the other kids at school. I will spend lunch time reading alone.

“One reason that I find this time so stressful is because it is unstructured. Some children may complain that they have colic and say they cannot eat due to the stress this causes”.

Immie believes schools also need to listen carefully if parents raise concerns. “Children can pretend that everything is okay and then when they get home they have big bouts of depression,” she said.

“I would keep it together at school but then when I got home, things went awry.”

That’s not to say she wasn’t helped along the way.

“Teachers are really important and I have met some wonderful people – they are kind and understanding. But I wish this video came out when I was having a hard time at school.

“They seem like little things but teachers need some insight to get them involved in grading, which has never happened to me.

“My diagnosis changed everything. I now get the help and support I need – I was supported full-time at school through an education, health and care plan (EHCP).

“Having an adult support me in the classroom helps me manage the school day, which means I can now attend school full time for the first time in years.”

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