Whole School SEND Spotlight: The Autism Resource Suite

Autism is one of the most commonly identified needs in England, with more than 82,000 school-age children with an Education, Health and Care Plan for ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder’, representing 30% of all EHC plans; this number grows year on year. There are a further 67,000+ autistic children who receive SEN Support (Special Educational Needs in England, July 2020, plus an unspecified number whose needs have not yet been identified as autism but who would probably meet diagnostic criteria.

Many, if not most, of these children, are being educated in mainstream schools, so there is a pressing need to improve the skills and confidence of the schools’ workforce to support the delivery of high-quality SEND provision for our learners with autism. 

This year, the Whole School SEND consortium (including the Autism Education Trust and the University of Birmingham Autism Centre for Education and Research, through the DfE-funded schools’ workforce contract) has developed the Autism Resource Suite, to build capacity in the system, to improve the experience of learners with autism and their families in schools, and to help prevent the drift out of mainstream schools and into specialist settings, particularly at primary/secondary transition. 

The suite has four themes*, which we hope will appeal to a range of audiences:

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1. A SENCO’s guide to supporting learners on the autism spectrum

This resource is aimed at SENCOs/Inclusion managers in both primary and secondary schools, and contains practical strategies and good practice examples, including on personalising learning, ensuring a broad and relevant curriculum, carrying out sensory audits, planning for new events and experiences and providing support to siblings. This resource comes with a useful ‘Improving Autism Provision’ checklist and links to further resources.

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2. Supporting autistic learners during transition

Transitions both big and small can be difficult for people with autism; this resource focuses specifically on the crucial ‘big’ transitions from an Early Years setting to primary school, and from primary to secondary school. It will be particularly useful for SENCOs, teachers and teaching assistants, and has a strong focus on working with the child and their family. It includes templates and case studies as well as links to other relevant resources.

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3. Promoting autism-inclusive attitudes

Working in groups or with other people can be particularly challenging for people on the autism spectrum. It is important that our autistic learners’ peers have an understanding of autism; raising peer awareness of autism is an important aspect of encouraging wider social inclusion. This practical resource provides a range of activities to be used within educational settings to help develop positive attitudes in both pupils and staff; it has been co-produced with autistic young people to meet their requests for how they would like their peers to understand autism.

An example of a presentation slide for primary pupils: [What is autism]

4. Guidance for school leaders on supporting autistic staff members

This is an area which tends not to receive much attention, but which could make a significant positive contribution to inclusive attitudes towards autism. The resource is aimed at headteachers, governors and those with Human Resources responsibilities, and provides ideas for developing an autism-friendly working environment for all autistic members of staff, including teachers and those in other roles. It emphasises the positives of employing an autistic member of staff, including having a better understanding of the needs of autistic learners and how to meet these, as well as acting as a role model for autistic pupils, alongside some of the reasonable adjustments which might need to be made to support autistic staff members effectively.

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Make sure schools know about The Autism Resource Suite!

Our Autism Resource Suite should become an essential part of all schools’ resource banks to support their learners with SEND and their families. Its strengths are that it is research- and evidence-informed but also practical, much of it has been co-produced with young autistic people, and, because it has been developed by the AET, it does not duplicate the free-to-access resources which already exist but serves to complement them. If you haven’t looked at the AET website, it is well worth a visit, along with the SEND gateway, where you will find all of Whole School SEND’s free-to-access resources.

Make sure your school knows about all of Whole School SEND’s DfE-funded resources, and that they are signed up as a member of Whole School SEND and nasen, to ensure that they hear about new resources and events as they are launched, to support them in their work to improve provision for our children and young people with SEND.

*A fifth resource, ‘Reasonable adjustments to school behaviour policies’, is currently under review and will be added to the Autism Resource Suite soon. This resource considers the implications of the Equality Act with regards to behaviour and how reasonable adjustments can be implemented within a school setting.

Free Nasen membership and upcoming nasen LIVE!

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For those who work in the special educational needs arena, I'd like to remind you that nasen membership is now FREE to all UK individuals across early years, schools, further education and wider settings.

It is critical that we break down the barriers that impact children and young people’s participation in education, particularly for those with SEND and learning differences. This is more important now than ever before with the social upheaval that all families and professionals are experiencing through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. nasen membership will provide up-to-date information and support for education practitioners to become effective, inclusive practitioners. Find out more here

I also want to let you know that nasen's flagship event, nasen Live - the one-day SEND CPD conference for anyone working with or caring for children and young people with SEND – is set to return later this year. Sign up for information here

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Alex Grady

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