What is autism?

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects a childs ability to communicate with and relate to the world around them.

The impact varies from child to child and the care that they receive therefore needs to be customised to their individual needs.

Current thinking suggests that there are 2 main areas of impairment:

1. Social communication & interaction.

2. Restricted,repetitive patterns of behaviour,interests or activities (this includes sensory behaviours).

Social communication & Interaction

People with autism have difficulty with both verbal and non-verbal communication. Comments might be taken literally as there is a lack of understanding of context.

Affected individuals may talk at others rather than engaging in a proper two-way conversation or there may be a “flatness” to their speech. Those affected may also use repetitive speech or learnt phrases. Responses to others can be viewed as being rude or inappropriate .

People with autism can have difficulty responding to social cues such as facial expression or body language. Jokes may be hard to comprehend and subtle comments may be taken literally.

People with autism can struggle to fit in socially. This may be due to an inability to express themselves in a normal manner or to understand others expressions or feelings. There is a lack of response to normal social cues.

Conversations may be difficult and there may be repetition of what the other person has just said (echoing or echolalia)

A lack of imagination or structured ideas can lead to a lack of imaginative play or even a lack of appreciation of danger because of the lack or inappropriate processing of information.

Restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour,interests or activities

Unusual behaviours or movements occur frequently in patients with autism. These may include stereotypical movements such as hand-flapping, body rocking whilst standing, spinning or finger flicking.

Play may be repetitive and there may be an exagerrated focus. There is often a strong preference for familiar routines and a dislike if these routines are interrupted.

Occassionally there may be an imbalance in developmental skills with areas of difficulty accompanied by areas of high performance. Social and emotional dvelopment may be more immature than other areas of development.

What do we know about autism?

The following video by Wendy Chung summarises some of the facts we know about autism and also some of the misconceptions

The sections below cover some of the management challenges with autism, such as professionals involved in long term care, how a diagnosis is reached and how best to integrate education and social care.

  • Professionals
  • Toys & equipment
  • Diagnosis
  • Education
  • Tips for parents

SENCO – Special Educational Needs Coordinator

  • The SENCO will co-ordinate additional support for pupils with SEN.
  • To  liaise with their parents, teachers and other professionals who are involved with your child.
  • The SENCO has responsibility for requesting the involvement of an Educational Psychologist (ED PSYCH.)
  • This also includes general SEN assessments and administration.
  • Parental support- during assessment processes, statementing processes and review meetings.
  • With the support of the head teacher and other teachers the SENCO should try and develop effective ways of overcoming barriers your child’s learning and ensure that they receive effective teaching through assessing the child’s needs and setting targets for improvement.
  • SENCO’s must also work with curriculum co-ordinators at the school to make sure that the learning requirements of all children with SEN are given equal importance and priority.
  • A SENCO will work with the class teacher to consider the child’s needs, and will take the lead role in getting further assessment of a child where necessary, by contacting the LEA.
  • They normally will be responsible for making a request of the LEA for a Statutory Assessment which may result in a  Statement of SEN.

Lead Practitioner

  • A lead practitioner will be involved in all aspects of support to those pupils with autism.
  • Being an advocate your child with autism or your child who is being assessed for autism.
  • Supporting pupils, families and staff.
  • Having a secure knowledge of the key areas of difference experienced by those pupils with autism.
  • Understand and be able to respond to the ways in which autism may present your child’s barriers to learning.
  • Consistently employ knowledge of your child in their decision making regarding advice on effective strategies.
  • Access support from outside agencies, where necessary.
  • Keep up to date with relevant training and good practice to support and be an advocate for your child.

Educational Psychologist (Ed Psych)

An educational psychologist helps children or young people who are experiencing problems within an educational setting with the aim of enhancing their learning.

  • assessing your child’s learning and emotional needs by observing and consulting with the multi- agency team working with your child
  • advising your child’s multi agency team on the best approaches and provisions to support learning and development
  • developing and supporting your child’s therapeutic and behaviour management programmes.
  • They may provide information on your child to the LEA as part of a statutory assessment for a Statement of SEN.
  • designing and developing courses for parents, teachers and others involved with the education of children and young people on topics such as bullying
  • designing and developing projects that may be beneficial for your child and others with similar learning and emotional needs
  • writing reports to make formal recommendations on action to be taken, including formal statements
  • advising, persuading, supporting and negotiating with teachers, parents and other education professionals
  • attending case conferences involving multidisciplinary teams on how best to meet the social, emotional, behavioural and learning needs of your child and other children and young people in their care.

Speech and Language Therapist (SALT)

Speech and language therapists (SALT’s) work closely with babies, children and adults who have various levels of speech, language and communication problems, and with those who have swallowing, drinking or eating difficulties.

  • identifying your child’s developmental speech and communication difficulties/disorders;
  • assessing and treating swallowing and communication difficulties arising from a range of causes, e.g. congenital problems (such as cleft palate) or acquired disorders after a stroke or injury.
  • devising, carrying out and revising relevant treatment programmes for your child.
  • advising carers on carrying out  treatment programmes and training other professionals in speech and language therapy delivery.
  • assessing the environments in which communication takes place with your child and advising on strategies to make these more accessible.
  • monitoring and evaluating your child’s progress
  • working with your child on a one-to-one basis, and in groups, to delivering therapy when appropriate
  • writing and maintaining your child’s confidential case notes and reports.
  • The SLT may plan and deliver training sessions for other professionals who work with you child.
  • They may provide information on your child to the LEA as part of a statutory assessment for a Statement of SEN.

Special Educational Needs Teaching Assistant (SEN TA)

  • Assist in the educational and social development of your child under the direction and guidance of the head teacher, SENCO and class teachers
  • Assist in the implementation of Individual Education Programmes for your child and help monitor their progress
  • Provide support for your child inside and outside the classroom to enable them to fully participate in activities
  • Work with other professionals in the multi-agency team who work with your child, such as speech therapists, educational psychologists and occupational therapists, as necessary
  • Assist class teachers with maintaining your child’s records
  • Support your child with emotional or behavioural problems and help develop their social skills
  • Adapt the curriculum to support your child’s needs.

Speech and Language Teaching Assistant (SLTA)

  • To ensure your child receives targeted support associated with speech and language, appropriate to their needs
  • To work with the headteacher, specialist speech and language therapist,  SEN teaching assistant and class teacher in supporting your child.
  • To with the class teacher, SENCO, specialist speech and language therapist, SEN teaching assistant to assist in planning and implementation of any individual programmes of work for your child, such as those relating to IEP targets and speech and language development.
  • To assist your child to access the full curriculum.
  • To be actively involved and undertake general care and supervision of other members of the class or group.
  • To assist in monitoring the progress of the pupil in all areas of learning and to keep records as requested.
  • To liaise with the specialist speech and language therapist, support teacher for early years children with special needs, support teacher for the hearing impaired, and any other services as required.
  • To develop a good working relationship with your child, the family/carer and any other professionals involved.
  • To contribute to and attend any review or liaison meetings for your child as requested by the headteacher.
  • To provide information to other staff members working with your and in particular new or supply staff etc.
  • To liaise with the family of the pupil regularly to ensure that they are kept informed of progress etc.
  • To prepare, modify and adapt resources and learning materials for your child as agreed with the class teacher and other professionals.

Class Teacher

  • Organising the classroom and learning resources and creating displays to encourage a positive learning environment for your child and their peers
  • Planning, preparing and presenting lessons that cater for the needs of your child as well as a range of other abilities.
  • providing feedback to parents and carers on a pupil’s progress at parents’ evenings and other meetings
  • Working with the SEN TA and others to plan and coordinate work for your child.
  • Liaising with other members of staff who may work with your child e.g. SEN TA, SENCO, Lead Practitioner, SLTA etc.
  • They may provide information on your child to the LEA as part of a statutory assessment for a Statement of SEN.
  • Meeting with other professionals who work with your child such as educational psychologists and speech and language therapists etc.


  • Local support brokers can provide one-to-one support and additional continuous support for those who need it to manage your child’s personal budget.
  • This can be face to face, or by phone or online.
  • To recognise your child as an individual with hopes, fears, preferences and goals, all of which must shape the final plan.
  • To fashion your child’s care plan in a person- centred fashion, though often in a simplified form.
  • Discovering and inventing ways in which your child’s needs and wishes might be met, not just through standard solutions, but informal support, community resources and ordinary answers.
  • To evaluate the risks and benefits of each idea – where necessary gathering more information – to arrive at one detailed and coherent plan
  • To present your child’s plan in written form and to submit to the council for approval.
  • To turn the plan into reality, including by agreeing contracts or recruiting staff, and co-ordinating all the plan’s elements.

Clinical psychologist

  • A clinical psychologist looks at what function your child’s behaviour has and may introduce a behaviour management plan.
  • Specialist clinical psychologists may be involved in the process of diagnosis of your child as part of a multi-professional team.
  • To look at your child’s strengths and difficulties put current emotional or behavioural issues into the bigger picture of their life-long development.
  • They may use questionnaires, psychological tests, and interviews to gather information on behaviour, intellectual skills, sensory needs and attentional processes.
  • They may provide information on your child to the LEA as part of a statutory assessment for a Statement of SEN.
  • They may also offer a follow-up service.

Counsellor and psychotherapist

  • Counsellors and psychotherapists are able to talk through various issues with individuals and families.
  • Counsellors and psychotherapy help offer support with problems that may arise for your child because their autism may hinder their ability to cope with everyday situations. They may be more vulnerable to experiencing depression and anxiety than other people, especially in late adolescence and early adult life.
  • Counsellors will carry out cognitive and behavioural therapy to help your child change the way that they think about themselves and other people (and what has happened in the past, or will happen in the future) so will be able to function better in daily life.
  • They may provide information on your child to the LEA as part of a statutory assessment for a Statement of SEN.

GP (General Practitioner)

  • Your GP or family doctor can make referrals to relevant professionals for you, such as clinical psychologists, counsellors, psychotherapists, educational psychologists, occupational therapists, psychiatrists and speech and language therapists.
  • Although responsible for the general health of their patients, GPs do not usually offer specialist advice or treatment.
  • They may provide information on your child to the LEA as part of a statutory assessment for a Statement of SEN.

Health visitor

  • Health visitors are specially-trained nurses responsible for the promotion of health and development in pre-school children.
  • They may raise concerns about development about your during routine developmental assessments.
  • If they deem that there are any concerns about your child’s development you may then be referred to other professionals.
  • They may provide information on your child to the LEA as part of a statutory assessment for a Statement of SEN.

Occupational therapist

  • Occupational therapists are concerned with the difficulties your child has in carrying out everyday activities, such as getting dressed, engaging in social interactions, completing school activities, and working or playing.
  • They can help with therapeutic techniques, identifying sensory sensitivities, adaptations to the environment, and specialist equipment e.g. they may introduce games to help aid social interaction, equipment such as fiddle toys and chews to help reduce anxiety or computer programmes to aid everyday activities.
  • They may work collaboratively to other members of the multi-disciplinary team e.g. Ed Psych, SLT, SLTA, SENCO,  who support your child
  • They may provide information on your child to the LEA as part of a statutory assessment for a Statement of SEN.

Outreach worker

  • An outreach worker can help your child access opportunities and activities outside their home.
  • They may find opportunities related to their interests such as sports or youth groups or it may be related to furthering their development such as a college course or support group.


Paediatricians are experts in the health and development of children, particularly those with developmental disorders.

  • Paediatricians are often involved in the initial diagnosis of autism and offer follow-up support in some cases.
  • They may work with the multi-disciplinary team who support your child e.g. psychiatrists, psychologists etc.
  • They may be involved in the diagnosis other clinical conditions your child may have and prescribe and monitor medications and treatments for these.
  • They may refer your child to other health and welfare professionals such as psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, counsellors etc.
  • They may provide information on your child to the LEA as part of a statutory assessment for a Statement of SEN.


  • Psychiatrists can diagnose autism and may offer a follow-up service.
  • Psychiatrists may diagnose other behavioural issues or mental health difficulties, and are able to prescribe and monitor medication.
  • They may work with the multi-disciplinary team who support your child e.g. paediatricians, psychologists, occupational therapists etc.

• They may provide information on your child to the LEA as part of a statutory assessment for a Statement of SEN.

Social worker and care manager

  • Social workers and care managers are involved in assessing care needs of your child and your family.
  • They are also involved in arranging services to meet those needs, this may involve referrals to other professionals, agencies, brokers or staffing a support team for your child.
  • They may work with the multi-disciplinary team who support your child e.g. paediatricians, psychologists, occupational therapists, teachers etc.
  • Parental support- during assessment processes, statementing processes and review meetings.
  • Providing information on your child to the LEA as part of a statutory assessment for a Statement of SEN

Authored by: Aimee Wray

Edited by: Dr Tim Ubhi

Published: 8th March 2019

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