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Explore the topic of Autism

What is Autism?


Autism, or, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD),  is a complex spectrum of neurodevelopment that affects children, adolescents, and adults. It is identified by a set of behaviours and symptoms that include difficulties with social interaction and communication, repetitive behaviours, narrow, obsessive interests, and sensory processing differences. 

Autism in children and young people

The severity of autism symptoms varies greatly from person to person and can range from mild social awkwardness to profound disability. Children with autism will often experience differences in their sensory processing. Early symptoms of autism in children may show that they are under-sensitive to sounds, touch, smells, taste, light, pain, or balance. This is because their sensory processing reflects a spectrum and is likely to differ greatly from that of their neurotypical peers. Often described to be more detailed or not detailed enough, autism results in some instances of feeling overwhelmed but in others, may be actively sensory seeking.

If you suspect your child has autism or if they have received a diagnosis, there is a wide variety of help and support available. This page will guide you through a range of information for supporting your child’s autism needs. We provide answers to common autism FAQs and and share additional internal and external autism resources available to you.

How we support children and young people with autism

Our therapeutic support is embedded throughout all of the work we do with children and young people to enable them to overcome their autism challenges and reach their full potential.

Our Clinical Services Team is based within each of our schools, enabling the children to access support, necessary assessments, and tailored programmes which are then integrated into their daily activities. Our team members are well-known to children and continuously work to establish and develop their trust.

We love to celebrate the successes and achievements of children and young people in our schools. Below we share some of the stories that best represent how staff across our Group positively impact lives.

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Cedar House School

Nelly’s Story

Nelly was diagnosed with autism and experienced delayed receptive and expressive language skills. She struggled with maintaining her attention and found listening to instructions difficult. Her experience in the classroom was one of frustration and as she would often feel anxious and unable to communicate, she would spit, become aggressive towards others and then become isolated as her peers would shy away from playing with her. In addition to all this, Nelly had great difficulty in coping and dealing with social situations. She often refused to join in within class activities and her parents were finding it increasingly difficult to encourage her to leave the house, making it challenging for her to all function as a family.

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Hall Cliffe Primary School

Andrew's Story

Excluded from nursery for displaying aggressive behaviour and later unable to cope within a mainstream reception class, Andrew’s early experience of education was extremely negative. The confused little boy who joined Hall Cliffe Primary School was diagnosed with Autism and significant speech, language and communication difficulties. To add to this, Andrew had not developed the appropriate personal skills for a child of his age.

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Chilworth House School

Evie’s Story

Evie arrived at Chilworth House Lower School with a diagnosis of Autism and ADHD. Her attainment levels were significantly lower than her peers and reports from a number of previous unsuccessful placements at local schools, including a local behaviour support service, suggested that she had great difficulty in engaging with learning. Her impulsivity coupled with her lack of attention and challenging behaviours were detrimental to herself and her peers.

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Frequently asked questions about autism

We've researched and collated a list of frequently asked questions about autism below. Alternatively, head to our autism resource library to expand your knowledge. 

Signs of autism in young children 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
  • Not doing as much pretend play
  • Repeating the same phrases

Signs of autism in older children include:

  • Not seeming to understand what others are thinking or feeling
  • Unusual speech, such as repeating phrases and talking ‘at’ others
  • 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'
  • Finding it hard to say how they feel

Supporting resources
Autism & Teens 

Many people who fit the profile for Asperger syndrome are now being diagnosed with autism instead. Each person is different, and it is up to each individual how they choose to identify. Some people with a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome may choose to keep using the term, while others may prefer to refer to themselves as autistic or on the autistic spectrum. Autism is a spectrum condition. 

Autism, Aspergers and Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) are conditions identified within the spectrum.

The cause of autism remains unknown, but the condition is believed to occur at approximately 1:100 worldwide. The identification, recognition and understanding of autism has been rising since the 1980s.

It is important to stress that autism is not caused by parental neglect or poor parenting. Autism affects the way children think, process, interact, communicate and behave but it does not change who they are as individuals. With appropriate support and maturation the symptoms of autism and behaviour patterns can change and alter. Symptoms are sometimes said to be more noticeable in children than in adults but autism is a lifelong developmental difference. 

Autism is one of the most common neurodevelopmental conditions. It tends to affect boys more often than girls.

Autism is a developmental disability that typically appears before age 3 and can be diagnosed in children as young as 18 months old. Signs of autism focus on key problem areas, including delayed or difficult communication, problems playing and interacting with others, and certain behavioural problems. This may not necessarily be recognised until much later.

  

According to the National Autistic Society, an estimated 700,000 adults and children are living in the UK with autism, this is approximately 1% of the population. Of these 700,000 people there are approximately 3 million carers of autistic people in the UK. 

There are a number of tools which are used to diagnose individuals who might be autistic. These include the DISCO (Diagnostic Interview for Social and Communication Disorders); the ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule); the ADI-R (Autism Diagnostic Interview Revised) and 3Di (Developmental, Dimensional and Diagnostic Interview).

If you do have concerns around possible signs of autism, depending on the age of your child or young person, first raise your questions with your health visitor or school SENCo. 

Children with autism may have differences in social development to their peers. De-coding the social world can be very challenging; often finding it hard to read the body language of others or understand how their actions affect those around them. This can make coping with the demands of everyday life difficult. Social stories are often suggested as a helpful means of explaining the expectations of the social world. It is important that those developing social stories have a sound understanding of them, as explained by carolgraysocialstories.com because the aim is to assist an autistic person in understanding a likely social experience. 

Meaningful, expressive, and reciprocal communication are all areas that develop differently for autistic people. This impacts on interaction with family, friends and professionals involved in their care. These areas can often be supported, by a carefully selected and taught range of strategies, including augmentative and visual communication, to support both understanding and expression. This can help equip a young person with the means to communicate, seek help and support when they feel they need it.

Young people with an autism spectrum disorder often find comfort and experience a reduction in anxiety from areas of special interest and routine.  Coping with change can feel extremely stressful.  It is likely activities are frequently repetitive and even behaviours may be repeated over and over. Favourite songs, phrases, programmes, or characters are also very common. A preference for sameness is often apparent. Placing belongings or setting out activities in a routine and repetitive way is common. Lining up objects and repeating the same play patterns can foster a reassuring predictability that can help to diminish some of the anxiety associated with managing change. 

As a result of these areas of development, people with autism spectrum disorders may feel isolated, frustrated and lonely. Communication may be interpreted very literally which can add to anxiety and confusion. Sarcasm and socially founded jokes, interpreting body language and facial expressions can all escalate anxiety and trigger stressed behaviours.  They may be very literal in the way they interpret what others say, so jokes and sarcasm can cause confusion. They may also have problems with interpreting facial expressions, which may make other people seem unfriendly.

The options available for children with autism are the same for all children with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities). Any SEN needs should be supported through the SEND Code of practice and the graduated approach.

If you are considering which school is best for your child, on the school website, look at the SEND Policy, SEND Information Report and arrange a visit to the school. Make sure you discuss the individual needs of your child with the school to ensure that you feel confident that they can fully support their needs. In some cases, your child's support needs may not be met within a mainstream setting. In this instance, you may wish to explore specialist provision. If this is appropriate, it is important to explore all suitable schools and follow the suggestions mentioned above.

  • Model social skills – use quiet voices in quiet areas. Explain why your voice is different in different environments.
  • Explain unwritten rules explicitly - be direct if necessary.
  • Restorative justice practices.
  • For non-verbal children use visual representations.
  • Therapeutic stories/social stories
  • Make the day predictable.
  • Visualise the routine to reduce the stress load.
  • Reduce language and provide time between asking questions and a response to them (at least 10 seconds)

Supporting resources 

Autism & Identity
Building Confidence & Happiness Podcast 
Autism: Empowering Your Child

This is dependent on the individual needs of your child. Some examples can include speech therapy, physiotherapy, or sensory integration. To find out what therapies or interventions are available or would be most appropriate, speak to the professional involved with your child. This could include your paediatrician, SENCo, school nurse, health visitor or speech and language therapist. It is also advisable to be aware of what is available at a local level. 

Autism can sometimes be different in girls and boys. Autistic girls may hide some signs of autism by copying how other children behave and play. They may withdraw in situations they find difficult or may appear to cope better in social situations or show fewer signs of repetitive behaviour. Sometimes these signs in girls are missed due to some of the characteristics associated with society ‘norms’, girls are more likely to be classed as shy, quiet, ‘nerdy’ or obsessed with things like make up or current celebrities. ‘Masking’ behaviour is also very common in girls. Consideration also needs to focus on the actual pathway, diagnostic criteria and historical research that has centred heavily around boys

Supporting resources 

Autism & Girls Part 1
Autism, Girls & Masking

  • Body language – Facial expressions, gestures, movement, as well as eye contact. Includes touch, proximity and personal space
  • Voice – Communicate meaning through tone, intonation and volume
  • Interpersonal skills – Making friends and maintaining friendships, negotiation, sorting difficulty and assertiveness
  • Conversational skills – "Speech and Language" Initiate and end conversation, turn taking, asking and answering questions – maintaining the topic
  • Social conventions – Politeness, manners, following unwritten rules
  • Emotional intelligence – ability to recognise and identify emotions in self and others. Managing emotions and expressing them appropriately

Supporting resources

Autism: Empowering Your Child
Autism: Strategies for Managing Anxiety
Autism: Strategies to Support Social Success
Behaviour & Autism

  • Stereotypical repetitive movement (hands, body) – rocking, making sounds, hand flapping.
  • Compulsive behaviours – behaviour that follows rules, such as arranging objects in stacks and lines.
  • Resistance to change – insisting that environments don’t alter, inflexible to change in routines.
  • Ritualistic behaviour - unvarying pattern of daily activities, such as an unchanging diet, or repeating the same routine.
  • Restricted behaviour – limited in focus, interest or activity, such as a preoccupation with a single tv program, toy or game.

Social isolation, feelings of being overwhelmed, high anxiety, difficulty making and maintaining friends.

Perhaps the most well-known trait of autism is difficulty with social skills, including recognising and responding to other people’s feelings, reading nonverbal cues, and navigating social norms. Language development and communication difficulties are common challenges in students with autism that are often inextricably intertwined with issues related to socialisation – so much of human socialisation is related to verbal and non-verbal communication.

Students with autism may struggle with sensory processing and may avoid or seek out sensory input. Some students will have difficulty completing tasks or planning ahead, while others may find it difficult to break a pattern of thinking to approach a problem in a new way, as executive functioning may be a challenge. Motor skills can be impaired in students with autism, and may require a great deal of concentration or effort that interferes with a student’s ability to concentrate on the material being presented.

Supporting resources
Anxieties in Children
Autism: Strategies for Managing Anxiety
Supporting Social Tolerance for Socially Sensitive Kids

Sensory sensitivities are common if autism is present. When the brain and nervous system is bombarded with too much sensory input from one or more sensory systems and is unable to process and sort out the incoming sensory messages. This can lead to a difficulty in effectively regulating the degree to which we are influenced by sensory inputs. This can occur in any of the sensory systems, some examples of which we have listed here:

  • I find it difficult to focus on a task.
  • I chew on everything
  • When I touch things, I can be too hard or too soft
  • I have coordination difficulties
  • I have difficulty following conversations
  • I like to smell things
  • Some materials / fabrics cause me distress
  • I don’t like being tickled
  • I close my eyes in bright light
  • I am a fussy eater
  • I have the tags cut out of my clothing
  • I have poor fine motor skills
  • I hate being barefoot
  • I fidget and sit awkwardly
  • I dislike brushing my hair
  • I don’t like loud noises
  • I don’t always feel pain like others do
  • I don’t like being cuddled

If your child is showing signs of autism, the next step the next step is to talk to someone about it. You could speak to your GP or a health visitor (if your child is under 5). You could also speak to your child’s schools SENCO and ask them about referring your child for an autism assessment (to request a referral to ASD pathway). 

Witherslack Autism Resources

We have recently refreshed the Advice and Support area of our website, a hub of knowledge we are very proud of. This section can now be filtered by our five specialist SEN areas of expertise:

Autism support
ADHD support
Speech, Language and Communication support
Mental Health support
EHCP support

From events and webinars to articles, e-books and case studies, Here you can find a wide variety of resources providing parents, carers and professionals with advice, support and guidance.

External Autism Resources

The following is a list of websites and organisations that can help you. While we have done our best to list the most up to date and relevant information on autism, please be advised that all the sources are constantly changing and new information will be added regularly.

Partnership of NFPs that support autistic people families | Autism Alliance
Autism Resources in the UK | Autism Awareness Centre
NFP Delivering autism training to education providers | Autism Education Trust
Free resources for professionals working with autistic children | Beyond Autism
UK charity for children and families of children with autism | Child Autism 
UKs leading charity for autistic people and their families | National Autistic Society
NHS England Autism resources | NHS England
Where to get autism support | NHS UK
Resources for Autism | www.resourcesforautism.org.uk/

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