A SPECIAL school has shone a light on mental health struggles often masked by girls with autism.

LVS Oxford has continued its collaborative series of conferences, sharing its expertise with teachers and support staff across Oxfordshire.

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs until Sunday, the Begbroke school hosted a conference about mental health challenges for girls with autism.

Staff from schools across the county attended the event on Friday, sharing advice and hearing from expert speakers.

Louisa Allison-Bergin, head of school at LVS Oxford, stressed a need for better understanding of how it feels to be a young person with autism.

She said: "They have increased challenges with friendships, understanding social cues and remaining calm when everything around them is a source of discomfort, pain and worry.

"A high percentage of girls with autism feel like the odd one out in peer groups and struggle hugely with putting their emotional difficulties into words.

"Instead of feeling supported they often feel overwhelmed by adults around them, and find it so hard to keep things together during the day.

"As soon as they get home or even see their parent at pick-up time, the difficulties of the day can send them into a meltdown that might last for hours."

The school near Kidlington specialises in helping students with autism spectrum disorder, Asperger syndrome and dyslexia, from ages 11-19.

Friday's talk was the second in a series of workshops open to staff of other schools, aimed at spreading its specialist knowledge.

Amelia Dean, a sixth former at LVS Oxford, said: "I always found it very hard to explain how I was feeling and always felt like the odd one out.

"LVS Oxford has been the first school that has been positive for me.

"I have friends and great support from staff, particularly my sixth form tutor.

"I feel positive about my future for the first time in a long time, which is a big relief."

The youngster took more than three years out of school after struggling at two other secondary schools, before joining LVS in September.

Among guest speakers at the conference was Deirdre Nic Sitric of Autism Champions, a team of teachers who specialise in working with children with autism.

Speaking at the event, she said: "Girls with autism can become expert at modelling what those around them are doing so it appears that they are coping.

"They mask their true feelings and often experience a full spectrum of emotions but aren’t able to link these emotions with feelings that they recognise, such as happiness, sadness and disappointment."

She highlighted how this differs from person to person, but said it was important to recognise red flags, adding: "We need to become much better at watching them and looking out for the signs of distress that may not seem obvious on the surface."