Autism is a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relate to other people, and how they experience the world around them. It is a development disorder of variable severity (often described as a spectrum) which is characterised by difficulty in social interaction and communication and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behaviour. It is though that up to 1 in 10 children can be on the autism spectrum.
Signs of autism in young children can include:
- not responding to their name
- avoiding eye contact
- not smiling when you smile at them
- getting very upset if they do not like a certain taste, smell or sound
- repetitive movements, such as flapping their hands, flicking their fingers or rocking their body
- not talking as much as other children
- repeating the same phrases
Signs of autism in older children include:
- not seeming to understand what others are thinking or feeling
- finding it hard to say how they feel
- liking a strict daily routine and getting very upset if it changes
- having a very keen interest in certain subjects or activities
- getting very upset if you ask them to do something
- finding it hard to make friends or preferring to be on their own
- taking things very literally – for example, they may not understand phrases like “break a leg”
Many children with Autism can function fully and successfully within a mainstream school with understanding from staff and at times, small adaptions to the curriculum or daily routine. Many strategies suggested for children with Autism can benefit all children such as the use of daily time tables, task management board, pre-teaching vocabulary, emotional literacy and development of social skills. Other children find school more challenging and may need resources and strategies to reduce or increase the amount of sensory feedback they receive (see Sensory Circuits), extra support around language, social skills (i.e. Lego therapy) or emotional understanding (such as ‘Colour Monster’ or ‘Comic book conservations’). Not all children with ASC will be on our SEN register if they are high functioning i.e. can access the curriculum and are often working at greater depth. However, these children are likely to be identified as AEN.
Autism can affect girls and boys. Both genders, but particularly girls, can ‘mask’ their difficulties and appear to be fine at school but then struggle or ‘melt-down’ when they get home. Therefore, it is important that parents share any concerns they may have with school. Many conditions can be ‘co-morbid’ meaning if you have autism you might also have dyspraxia, dyslexia, sensory process disorder, pathological demand avoidance (PDA), Pica or ADHD.
If parents suspect their child has ASC, they can speak to the SENCo for advice and to decide whether to refer for an assessment or for support at home (i.e. Early Help). Children under 7 are assess by a paediatrician, children over 7 by CAMHS. The waiting lists can be extremely long (especially for the over 7s service) so parents often require support whilst waiting for a diagnosis.
There are many support groups for parents of children with ASC. Click on the links below for some useful websites:
Here is a link to a lovely video called ‘Amazing things happen’ which explains autism in a positive and child friendly way: