Learning Disability and Autistic Spectrum Condition

Autistic Spectrum Condition (also known as ASC) is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people. All people with ASC share certain difficulties, although their condition will affect them in different ways. For example, some people with ASC are able to live relatively independent lives, whilst others may also have learning disabilities and need specialist support. This might be associated with their developmental stage, or level of cognitive ability.

Learning Disability Nursing provide advice and support to children, young people with learning disabilities, their parents/carer(s) and the healthcare and education professionals they rely on.

People with Autistic Spectrum Disorder can experience a number of difficulties in areas that include:

  • Social Communication – for example: difficulties with verbal language, such as understanding humour, sarcasm and idioms (i.e. figures of speech); and difficulties with non-verbal language, such as understanding other people’s facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, and making eye contact
  • Social Interaction – for example: difficulty in recognising or understanding other people’s emotions and feelings, which can make it more difficult for them to fit in socially
  • Social Imagination and Flexibility of Thought – for example: many people with ASC have difficulty understanding and predicting other people’s behaviour, making sense of abstract ideas, and imagining situations outside their immediate daily routine
  • Preferences for routines and sameness – for example: becoming upset or anxious if a routine such as travelling on the same bus to go to the shops every Saturday morning, is disrupted
  • Sensory Sensitivity – people with ASC may experience over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to touch, sounds, smells, taste or light. They may not be able to tolerate loud noises, which might cause them a great deal of anxiety or even physical pain

How can we help you?

The Children’s Community Learning Disabilities Team have a number of strategies and ways of working that we can use to support you and your child if they have a severe or profound learning disability and Autistic Spectrum Condition. Our focus is not to change the child or young person but to improve the support they have access to and to increase your understanding and skills around the impact of ASC. We do this by working with parents/carer(s) and/or school staff, drawing on research and knowledge about child development, learning and behavioural theory and emotional development.

Guidance and helpful information

If you feel that your child with a learning disability and ASC needs support with their behaviour, you should make an appointment for your child to see their GP to discuss this. They may decide to make a request for support to CFHDevon for support.

We will ask your GP to include information about the services your child is currently involved with or has seen in the past, whether your child has an Education, Health and Social Care plan (also known as an EHC) or a single assessment or My Pathway plan. If they have, we will ask them to provide or reference this in their referral to us.

The information we receive will determine if the request to our service is appropriate to meet your child’s needs. If it is decided that your child does not meet the criteria for our specific service, we might suggest that a request is made to another service.

If your child’s case is accepted, they will go onto a waiting list until you are offered a first appointment. Whilst you are waiting you will be sent a pack containing forms for you to record your child’s behaviours over the next few weeks. During your initial appointment you will be able to describe and discuss the difficulties you are experiencing and how we can support you and/or your child.

What happens next?

Once the request for service has been accepted, you will be notified and sent an appointment. We try and see all children within 18 weeks of acceptance onto the waiting list. Where this is not possible, we will write and advise you of the anticipated time frame.

Whilst your child is engaged with our service, the clinician will work with you on a targeted goal (episode of care). They will contact you regularly to keep you updated with the assessment process, and will arrange to see you and/or your child through either home visits, school visits and/or clinic appointments. The clinician may offer strategies and/or visual resources to put in place at home and they will regularly check up on your progress. If appropriate, the clinician may participate in one-to-one work with your child.

Once the episode of care is completed we will discharge you from our service. This may sound worrying for some parents, however the child or young person may be re-referred whenever new goals are identified and appropriate re-referrals will be discussed by the team.

Self referral

You can now self-refer your child into this service. For more information please view this guide on how to self refer.

For details of what the service supports and what supporting documentation you require for your referral, please view the request criteria page.

Toolkits and Strategies

The following toolkits are available to support you to record behaviours, sleep patterns and other information which will be useful in assessing what the support a child or young person requires:

  • Behavioural pack >

    This toolkit includes basic information and advice on behaviour. The pack will allow you to record information which is useful during a clinic assessment to allow the clinician to assess the help needed.

  • Sleep hygiene information and sleep diaries >

    This includes sleep hygiene information sheets to give you basic advice for promoting healthy sleep patterns. We only support families with severe sleep problems but this information is useful for all families and children.  The sheets here allow you to record information on sleep patterns and approaches which will be useful for the clinican when you attend an appointment with us. 

Who you might see

Learning disability nurses support people with learning disabilities and their families and carers. We help children and young people with learning disabilities to maintain their health and wellbeing and to live their lives as fully and independently as possible by providing advice and support. We also support healthcare and education professionals as part of our service.

We have three teams covering Devon from bases in the North, South and East.

What is the process?

Location of Centres

We will arrange to see you at a location convenient to you or near to your home, which may or may not be listed below. You should not visit the locations below unless we have sent you an appointment and requested that you do. If you need help please contact us using the number on this page.


Children and Family Health Devon
Single Point of Access Team
1a Capital Court
Bittern Road
Sowton Industrial Estate
Exeter EX2 7FW

e: TSDFT.DevonSPA@nhs.net

t: 0330 024 5321