Autism and education

All schools have a special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) policy. It explains how they identify students with SEND. To read your school's policy visit their website or talk to your school's SENCO.

A mainstream education setting can meet the needs of your child who is autistic.

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

Worried about your child? Talk to their, key worker, teacher or the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO).

If your child has not been identified as having SEN, they may show traits in the 4 broad areas of need. These are:

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

If they feel that your child has SEN, they will put in place extra learning support for them. They will assess, plan, do, and review your child over time. This is in line with the Graduated Approach.

Your child may have the following support depending on their needs.

Children who struggle with communication and interaction may do the following:

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

The support from the education setting 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
  • 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).

Children who have difficult learning may 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 usual school routines, or worry of potential changes
  • cannot concentrate if they do not understand 'the point'.

The support from the education setting 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 explaining any marking criteria. They can also explain why work must be done a certain way. And, how to answer exam questions.
  • 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.

Children who have sensory processing may do one or more of these things:

  • experiences visual or auditory overload. They can become overwhelmed. Or introduce a 'fright, fight or flight response'
  • have 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 from the education setting 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).

Children who have social, emotional, and mental health difficulties may do one or more of these things:

  • appearing to others that they lack emotion and compassion
  • feeling sad, lonely, has a low self-worth or anxiety
  • have difficulty with eating at school or at home
  • have 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
  • saying they often feel unwell
  • struggling to understand another person's point of view
  • struggling with some of the aspects of the curriculum.

The support from the education setting could include:

  • allocating a key person for your child or young person
  • being already aware of any children 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.

For exams like GCSEs and A-Levels, the school must apply for special arrangements.

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 or the National Autistic Society.

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

Before they move, you and the school can do some things to help prepare.

  • Discuss the move in a positive way. Talk about what will stay the same and what will change.
  • Practice the journey to and from school, especially is this involves public transport.
  • Ask questions to the education setting before starting.

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

For more help, read the Mainstream Core Standards. It explain how schools should support your family.

Autism Education Trust support

All Kent education settings follow the Autism Education Trust training and frameworks. It promotes and supports partnerships across the education system. They aim to improve access to education, experiences, and outcomes for autistic children.

Are you a parent or carer looking for extra support? Why not visit:

Specialist resource provisions and special schools

Children with specific learning disabilities (SpLD) may need extra support and equipment.

A specialist resource provision (SRP) helps children who are unlikely to learn and will struggle at mainstream school. For SRP support, your child or young person must have an education health and care (EHC) plan.

special school provides education and support to those with an EHC plan. Often who have complex special educational needs and require their SEN support in a specialist school.

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 educational rights and entitlements support for parents and carers contact: