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Autism Awareness Week

Autism Awareness Week

/ Dan Sears


Did you know that around 1 in 100 people in the UK are on the autism spectrum and only 16% of autistic adults are in full-time paid employment?

With autism awareness week in full flow, we wanted to investigate just how it can affect children and young people in education. To achieve this, we first need to understand more about autism.

What is autism?

As defined by the national autistic society, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world. Autism is a spectrum condition and affects people in different ways. Like all people, autistic people have their own strengths and weaknesses.

What challenges can autism pose?

Listed below, are some of the most frequent difficulties autistic people face daily:

  • Social communication and interaction – Autistic people usually have difficulties with interpreting both verbal and non-verbal language like gestures or tone of voice. Some autistic people are unable to speak or have limited speech, while other autistic people have very good language skills but struggle to understand sarcasm or tone of voice. Eye contact is another area that those with autism may find overwhelming or uncomfortable.


  • Repetitive and restrictive behaviour – For more mild cases of autism, this may take the form of simply finding comfort in the familiar and choosing to carry out tasks in the exact same way every single time. For more serious cases, this could manifest itself in hand flapping, rocking, or focusing on the intricacies of an object rather than the object of a whole.


  • Over or under sensitivity to light, taste, sound, touch and smell – Again, there can be mild and extreme examples found in autistic people. Some may find barely audible noises or music to be distracting, while more sensitive children can experience meltdowns from seeing certain patterns or coming across textures they do not like in food. Schools, workplaces and shopping centres can be particularly overwhelming.


  • Highly focused interest or hobbies – Many autistic people have intense and highly focused interests, often from a fairly young age. These can change over time or be lifelong. Autistic people can become experts in their special interests and often like to share their knowledge. Others can possess unbelievable natural talent musically or artistically, being able to create or replicate complex pieces with minimal effort. Pursuing their interests can provide extreme happiness are fundamental to their wellbeing and happiness.


  • Extreme anxiety – Anxiety is a real difficulty for many autistic children and adults, particularly in social situations or when facing change. It can affect a person psychologically and physically and impact quality of life for autistic people and their families. It is of great importance and professional recommendation that autistic people learn to identify their triggers and find coping mechanisms to reduce their anxiety.

How can schools help?

Choosing a school for children is difficult at the best of times. There are many factors to consider, such as the area, the distance to/from the school and past performance. When you have an autistic child, there are many more factors to consider, and parents must try to find the school best equipped to accommodate their child’s needs. For some, the answer may be a special school or pupil referral unit, while others opt for a mainstream school, so what can these establishments do to help their autistic students?

Step 1 – Assess

There should be a clear analysis of your child’s needs based on the teacher’s assessment and experience of teaching your child as well as information about their progress, attainment, and behaviour.  The assessment should be regularly reviewed.  In some cases, professionals from outside the school, who may already know your child, will liaise with the school to help inform the assessments.


Step 2 – Plan 

If the school decides that your child needs SEN support, they must notify you.  You should also be consulted about the interventions and support to be put into place for your child, how the school expects this to impact  on their progress and when this will be reviewed. All staff working with your child should be aware of the approach and teaching strategies being used and of any additional support being provided. This should be recorded on the school’s information system.


Step 3 – Do 

The class or subject teacher remains responsible for your child’s progress on a daily basis, working closely with any teaching assistants or specialist staff involved to plan and continually assess the impact of the support/interventions being put into place. In turn, the SENCO should support the class or subject teacher in further assessments, problem solving and advising on effective implementation of the support.


Step 4 – Review 

There should be a clear agreed date to review the effectiveness of the interventions and support put into place and the impact it has had on your child’s progress.  You and your child (where appropriate) should be given the opportunity to present your views. The class, or subject teacher, working with the SENCO and any external professionals involved with your child, should revise the support in the light of your child’s development and progress made


For all the challenges autism may pose, it does not define a person. Some of the kindest, smartest, and talented people I have personally come across have had some form of autism. We need to do all we can to ensure that autistic children feel included and have as much opportunity as everybody else, particularly within education. So I ask you, is there more that your school could do to help autistic children, or any SEN child for that matter?


Credit to the national autistic society for the incredible work they do, and for providing some of the key points and figures in this blog.

Dan Sears

Dan Sears