Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
My child needs more help in school, how do I get this?
The National Autistic Society education advice helpline can provide general information about educational rights and entitlements, as well as advice on specific topics such as getting extra help in school, assessments, education plans, reviews or school transport.
The Devon SEND Local Offer provides clear, comprehensive and accessible information about the support and opportunities that are available to children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) in Devon. Their website provides information about education support, including information on how to request an Education and Health Care (EHC) needs assessment.
Support should always be needs led rather than diagnosis led, so it shouldn’t be the case that a school waits for a diagnosis before implementing support. If the school is struggling to support your child, it may help initially to discuss with your school’s SENDCo. This could lead onto a Team Around the Family (TAF) meeting, and a plan of action agreed.
The Devon Information and Advice Service (DIAS) provide confidential and impartial information, support and training for parents who have children aged 0-25 years with additional educational needs. They are also able provide additional support to parents in TAF meetings. SENDIASS is the Torbay version of this service.
A ‘graduated response’ approach is a way of meeting needs through effective implementation of support before moving a child or young person onto higher levels of support by following the assess, plan, do and review cycles. Visit the Devon Graduated Response (DGR) or the Torbay Graduated Response (TGR) to find out more.
It may also be appropriate to discuss whether the young person should be referred to any other Pathway depending on their specific needs, such as the Cognition and Learning Pathway, or the Communication and Interaction Pathway.
My child is refusing to go to school – what can I do?
The Autism Education Trust have produced a comprehensive guide to school stress and anxiety in autistic pupils and how this can lead to school refusal. The guide includes strategies to overcome barriers to inclusion and gives advice on how to work with the school to best support the child or young person.
It can help for parents to sit down with their child and attempt to break down what is causing their anxiety about attending school. This can help come up with a plan for how to address the issues, as simple adjustments can sometimes make a big difference. Use a visual approach such as a mindmap, and consider all the different areas e.g. sensory needs, physical environment, peer interactions, learning and adult demands. It is then beneficial to meet with the school SENDCo to talk through your child’s needs and any adjustments that can be made.
What if they are at risk of exclusion from school?
The Devon Information and Advice Service (DIAS) have produced a school exclusion guide explaining the facts and law related to school exclusion, giving advice on what you can do if your child is excluded from school or is at risk of exclusion.
How can I help my child when they are dysregulated and demonstrating challenging behaviour?
You could consider your child’s behaviour to be the tip of an iceberg. There is often lots going on underneath the water that can help explain their behaviour. It is helpful to ask why a child or young person has behaved in a particular way and to try to identify any particular triggers.
Some young people are triggered by sensory issues (noise, itchy labels, smells, someone bumping into them). For others, it is something unexpected happening, or not being in control, or transitioning from one thing to the next. If you can work out what the triggers are, you can then try to put things in place to prevent these things from happening (or reduce their impact). For example you could remove sensory stressors or use visuals to show what’s happening next and to make abstract ideas more concrete. It’s important that any visuals used to support a young person’s emotional regulation are simple. The Incredible 5 Point Scale is a good example.
Young Minds have created a comprehensive guide for parents on coping with challenging behaviour.
There is also a wealth of information about behaviour on the National Autistic Society website.
Bisnet is a local charity which offers behaviour support consultations for parents of children and young people who are demonstrating challenging behaviour.
How can I help my child manage their anxiety?
Anxiety is very common in autistic individuals. General strategies to help reduce anxiety include using visuals (e.g. planners, calendars, tick sheets) to show your child visually what is happening next. Visuals help to reduce the young person’s anxiety regarding change as well as supporting them in planning, organising and sequencing tasks. It can also be helpful to google images/websites of new places before going there. Our 1 Minute Guide to Anxiety contains further strategies.
Cerebra have produced a guide to anxiety in children with brain conditions, including autism. The guide includes many practical strategies that families can use to alleviate and cope with anxiety.
Happy Maps is a free psychological wellbeing service for 5-18 year olds and offers support and intervention for low-mood, anxiety, and behavioural difficulties.
Young Devon has supported young people across Devon Torbay and Plymouth for over 70 years and are passionate about putting young people at the heart of Devon. Their Wellbeing service is nationally recognised, and staff are hugely experienced. They are able to offer wellbeing conversations, counselling and CBT for young people aged 11 and over.
YMCA offer a psychological wellbeing service for 5-18 year olds struggling with low mood, anxiety, and behavioural difficulties. The team of Wellbeing Practitioners use CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) techniques and goal-setting to build up emotional wellbeing and resilience in young people and their families.
The Kooth team also provide free, safe and anonymous online support and counselling.
Molehill Mountain is a free app for autistic teenagers and adults, designed to help them to understand and manage their anxiety.
The Mental Health Support Team in Schools (MHST) work with children and young people with low-level/mild to moderate common mental health difficulties (anxiety, low mood and behavioural difficulties). Their webpage explains how to access this support and whether it is provided in your child’s school.
How can I support my child’s sensory differences?
It is helpful to explore your child’s sensory profile and their individual sensory sensitivities and aversions. This can then be used to develop soothing strategies which can help them self-regulate. Making Sense of Sensory Behaviour, a booklet created by the Falkirk Occupational Therapy Service, is a helpful resource for exploring your child’s sensory profile.
It is also a good idea to discuss your child’s sensory needs with their school SENDCo. The National Autistic Society have compiled a number of strategies to support children and young people’s sensory needs in the classroom.
The Sensory Integration Network is free to join, and provides members with resources and up to date information about sensory differences.
Our 1 Minute Guide to Sensory Differences may also be helpful.
My child struggles to sleep at night, what can I do?
Difficulties with sleep are common in autistic individuals. It is important to practise good ‘sleep hygiene’ (the lead-up and routine around your child’s bedtime). This guide from Great Ormond Street outlines some good sleep hygiene practices.
Cerebra have created a guide to help parents understand the nature of sleep problems in children with brain conditions (including autism) and what can be done to improve sleep.
My child presents with traits of Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA). Can they be assessed for this?
PDA is not currently a recognised diagnosis in international diagnostic manuals so the NHS does not assess for or give this diagnosis. However, it is recognised that many young people with autism present with a profile of demand avoidance, especially at times of heightened anxiety.
The PDA Society is a helpful website to visit for advice and support regarding demand avoidance.
My child is struggling with their gender identity – how can I help them?
The Gender Identity Development Service provides information on how to support your child with their gender identity, including from an autistic perspective.
Where can I learn more about autism?
The National Autistic Society is an excellent resource. On their website you can find a wide range of information about autism – from what autism is, to diagnosis, to socialising and relationships.
Health for Kids periodically run ‘Autism and Us’ workshops, for parents and carers of Devon primary and secondary children who are either on the autism waiting list or who have received a diagnosis of autism.
How do I talk to my child about autism?
We recommend talking about autism as a different way of thinking, perhaps by starting off talking about everyone having different strengths and needs. The video Amazing Things Happen is a helpful way of introducing children to the idea of neurodiversity.
The National Autistic Society have written a guide for parents and carers on how to talk to your child about the potential diagnosis.
You may also want to use a visual resource such as the Autism Umbrella Chart, to help your child understand their unique strengths and needs.