Autism and education

All schools have a special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) policy, which sets out their approach to identifying the SEN of their pupils.

If your child or young person is autistic they will be able to have their needs met in a mainstream education setting.

Views of an autistic child or young person

"I'm scared my teacher will be angry if I make a mistake when I don't mean to"

"If I'm anxious some people think I'm angry"

"I'm usually right, other people just don't understand things"

"I don't like being different"

"People annoy me a lot of the time"

"Most people think I'm weird"

Children and young people in Kent's voice as told to professionals

Support from education setting

If you have any worries about your child or young person, you should talk to their teacher or the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO).

If your child has not been identified as having SEN, they may be showing characteristics under the 4 broad areas of need (as set out in the SEND code of practice):

  • communication and interaction
  • cognition and learning
  • social, emotional and mental health difficulties
  • sensory and/or physical needs.

If they feel that your child or young person has SEN, they should plan extra learning support for them. Over time they will learn more about your child or young person and will go through a 4 part process called the 'assess, plan, do, review cycle' (the graduated approach).

Depending on your child or young person's needs they may receive the following specific support.

The educational setting will offer additional support if your child or young person has difficulty with communication and interaction. It could be they do one or more of these things:

  • adopts an accent which isn't their own, this is often American
  • has difficulties in understanding body language, or recognising facial expressions
  • has a flat or monotonous tone in their voice
  • has a loud voice, which can appear to be opinionated or rude
  • has unusual eye contact which can show as either avoiding or overly intense
  • initiates interactions inappropriately, for example shouting out, touching others to get attention and interrupting
  • interprets language literally and struggles to understand jokes and sarcasm
  • struggles to differentiate or misinterprets a tone of voice.

The support they offer could include:

  • avoiding any sarcasm or figures of speech
  • being aware of:
    • those who have difficulties in reading facial expressions
    • their own body language, which could be missed or misinterpreted
    • their own tone of voice (be calm and not too loud)
    • any vulnerabilities between pupils
  • considering collaboration between all pupils in the class to support your child or young person
  • displaying social rules and refer to them often
  • introducing communication software such as Communicate in Print or Widgit
  • introducing language through rhyme and song and Makaton
  • saying your child or young person's name often, especially before a task
  • setting explicit and clear expectations and use clear language
  • using visual supports, pictures and symbols, including Now and Next boards sequence strips and Picture Exchange Communication (PECS).

The educational setting will offer additional support if your child or young person has difficulty with learning. It could be they do one or more of these things:

  • are anxious, confused, or disorganised
  • experience sensory overloads
  • have difficulty demonstrating their knowledge and understanding the task at hand
  • struggle with changes to their usual school routines, or they're worrying of potential changes
  • unable to maintain concentration if they do not understand 'the point' the teacher is making.

The support they offer could include:

  • considering if their homework can be limited or completed within the school day
  • explaining further any changes in routines or systems in advance
  • providing checklists and tasks boards
  • providing small group or individual support for key vocabulary
  • providing alternative methods of recording, for example laptop and/or speech-to-text software
  • rewarding any extra effort it has taken them to complete a task
  • sharing and explain any marking criteria, and provide support understanding of why work needs to be completed in a particular way, or the extent to which exam questions need to be answered
  • teaching them specific social skills, for example:
    • what to do when praised
    • how to ask for help
    • how to enter a room and greet people
    • ways to sustain a conversation
    • how to make and sustain friendships with their peers
    • how to regulate their own behaviour
  • trying to link work to their special interests
  • using their name often, especially when giving tasks
  • using timers to structure tasks
  • using writing frames
  • using visual timetables to show what will be happening during the day or week.

The educational setting will offer additional support if your child or young person has difficulty with sensory processing. It could be they do one or more of these things:

  • experiences visual or auditory overload and become overwhelmed, they may introduce a 'fright, fight or flight response'
  • has anxiety
  • is easily agitated
  • is sensitive or afraid of loud noises, particular sounds, smells, or sights. This may affect your child or young person's inability to concentrate.

The support they offer could include:

  • avoiding visual clutter in the classroom
  • considering a calm and sensory friendly environment, using a sensory audit to consider:
    • classroom and corridor displays
    • ear defenders
    • help and exit cards
    • lighting
    • positioning the desks in the right places
    • sensory profiling
    • sensory toolbox.
  • planning transition time for example, delayed or early movement between lessons
  • providing a pre-warning of fire drills or announcements (where possible).

The educational setting will offer additional support if your child or young person has difficulty with their SEMH. It could be they do one or more of these things:

  • appears to others that they lack emotion and compassion
  • feels sad, lonely, has a low self-worth or anxiety
  • has difficulty with eating at school or at home
  • has increased perfectionism or is overworking
  • is being bullied
  • is increasingly withdrawn or has challenging behaviour, which is leading to exclusion
  • is refusing to go to school
  • says they often feel unwell
  • struggles to understand another person's point of view
  • struggles with some of the aspects of the curriculum.

The support they offer could include:

  • allocating a key person for your child or young person
  • being already aware of any children or young people with potential difficulties with creative writing, fiction or poetry
  • considering a referral to your GP or Kent Children and Young People's Mental Health Service (CYPMHS)
  • creating an enhanced communication plan agreed with you, which may include more regular phone calls, emails, meetings, use of contact
  • discussing concerns with you at the Local Inclusion Forum Team (LIFT) meetings (early years) or Early Help
  • introducing a buddy system or a circle of friends support
  • introducing a collaboration with other pupils in your child or young person's class
  • providing a specific place and time to be away from others
  • providing Social Stories™, writing frames, storyboards and task boards
  • suggesting they attend a lunchtime clubs/ activities
  • supporting transitions into each school day.

The education setting can make their own arrangements for your child or young person during internal exams.

However, for any external national exams for example, GCSEs and A-Levels, the education setting must apply for special arrangements to be put in place.

Thy can ask for:

  • a separate room either in a small group or alone
  • a reader or a scriber
  • a computer instead of handwriting
  • additional breaks
  • assistive software ( for example screen reader or voice recognition)
  • exam papers in different formats
  • extra time.

Find out more by visiting the Ipsea website.

Moving into a new school year or a new school can be an exciting and anxious experience for your autistic child or young person.

Before they move, there are some things you and the education setting can do before to help prepare including:

  • how to talk positively about the move, discuss the things that will be the same or the things that will be different
  • practicing the journey to and from school, especially is this involves public transport
  • what questions to ask the education setting before starting.

Learn how you can prepare your child for starting or changing school for those moving from:

For additional support and guidance read the mainstream core standards which sets out how education settings should be supporting your family.

Independent advice and guidance

Visit our autism support page for additional advice including:

  • finding local groups and charities
  • the parent handbook
  • how the NHS can support you
  • understanding a child or young person's view of autism.

For advice and support on educational rights and entitlements for parents and carers of autistic children contact: