Skip to main content
EducationLegalRelationshipsspecial educational needs

Supporting children with Autism in school

By 20/08/2023No Comments
autism laid out
by Chloe Chapman
SEND Consultancy Services

An estimated 700,000 adults and children have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the UK – approximately 1% of the population. However, there may be many more who do not have an official diagnosis but have the same profile of needs. If your child has Autism or suspected Autism, school can be an overwhelming and challenging experience.

The NHS website details the common signs of Autism in young and older children. There are also useful descriptors of how Autism can present differently in girls and boys; with girls generally being better at ‘masking’ typical Autistic behaviours, making it harder to spot (and diagnose) in girls.

How do I obtain a diagnosis of Autism?
If you suspect that your child may have Autism you will need to make a referral through your GP or child’s school, which is then referred to a Paediatrician. A Paediatrician will meet your child in a clinic setting and discuss their developmental milestones, and observe how your child plays and interacts. It is important to share any reports written by other medical professionals, and your child’s educational setting. Following this you will receive a written report outlining whether your child meets the criteria for a diagnosis of Autism. It is important to note that waiting lists to see a Paediatrician are often a minimum of 20 weeks long, and in reality significantly longer. It is possible to pay privately for a Health Professional to provide an assessment of Autism; this can typically cost a minimum of £1,500 and sometimes significantly more.

What school support is available for children with ASD?
If your child is struggling with the demands of the classroom or the social aspects of the playground it is important to ask for a meeting with the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo) in the first instance. You will need to check if your child is on the school’s SEN Support Register as this will allow the school to draw up to £6,000 funding to support your child (it is useful to note this is roughly 12 hours of support across the school week). You have the right to ask how this funding is being spent to support your child. Typical support for children with ASD might include a social skills group, structured social groups such as LEGO® therapy, sensory circuits and structured learning activities to support attention span in adult led tasks. Educational settings are able to seek advice from, and make referrals to, outside professionals such as an Educational Psychologist, Specialist Autism Advisory Teacher, Speech and Language Therapist or Occupational Therapist. These professionals will be able to provide individually tailored advice to the school in how best to support your child.

Autistic children can sometimes present with difficult or challenging behaviour in the classroom. This can be a response to the overwhelming sensory nature of the classroom, the number of social interactions that are required or because delayed social communication skills make it difficult to verbally communicate effectively. If your Autistic child is displaying dysregulated behaviours it is important to work with the school to identify possible triggers and support strategies. Difficult behaviours can be considered a means of communication (especially in non-verbal children) so it is important to work out what message your child is trying to get across. Providing alternative means of communication through; Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), Signing, Objects of Reference or other means) can help to support your child to communicate and reduce frustrated behaviours.

Do I need a diagnosis to apply for an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Needs Assessment?
If your child has ASD traits and is struggling to manage in the school environment it is important to note that you do not need a diagnosis in order to apply for an EHC Needs Assessment. An EHC Needs Assessment is a statutory process through the Local Authority to assess the type and amount of support a child needs in an educational setting (Information about how to apply for an EHC Needs Assessment is on the Local Offer for your area). The types of difficulties your child faces and the way they communicate and behave does not change upon diagnosis; however having a recognised diagnosis can help others understand more about why your child may find certain things challenging. If you are worried about how your child is managing in a mainstream school and would like the Local Authority to consider a special school place you may need a diagnosis of Autism in order to be considered for a space in certain schools.

What if things are not going well for my child in school?
If things are not going well for your child in school (whether or not they have an ASD diagnosis) and they are on an SEN Support Plan you could consider (in conversation with the school) whether to apply for an EHC Needs Assessment. If your child already has an EHC Plan in place you should contact the school and Local Authority to arrange an early Annual Review to consider if the provision in place is working or not.

You can also contact local support groups or SENDIASS (as outlined in the Local Offer) both of which can offer impartial advice. You could also consider contacting an independent SEN Consultant who would be able to discuss the individual concerns regarding your child and advise next steps accordingly.

If you would like more information and advice about supporting a child with Autism then please get in touch.