Learning about autism

What is autism?

Autism or Autistic Spectrum Disorder is a development disability whereby individuals have difficulties in areas such as communication, social interaction, flexible thinking and sensory processing.

The prevalence:

  • 1 in 100 of the population have a diagnosis of autism which equates to 700,000 people in the UK.(National Autistic Society)
  • 71% of children with autism in the UK attend mainstream schools. (National Autistic Society)

The teachers:

  • 60% of the teachers in England do not feel they have had the adequate training to teach children with autism. (Ambitious About Autism, 2013 survey)
  • 35% of teachers think it has become harder in the last 12 months to access specialist support for children with autism. (Ambitious About Autism, 2013 survey)
  • Over 70% of mainstream teachers disagreed that their initial training adequately prepared them to teach pupils with a range of special educational needs in mainstream schools. (Ambitious About Autism, 2013 survey)

The children:

  • 40% of children on the autism spectrum have been bullied. (Autism Education Trust)
  • 36 weeks is the average wait for referred children as young as 5years old, for their first autism assessment appointment in England instead of within 3 months which is the national benchmark.Some children face a wait of up to 98 weeks. (NHS figures)

The parents:

  • 56% of parents of children on the autism spectrum who had been bullied said that it caused their child to miss school or even change schools. (Autism Education Trust)
  • 70% of parents are not satisfied with the level of understanding of autism in their child’s school. (National Autistic Society)

The problems:

Delays in assessment means undiagnosed pupils lack funding for one to one support within the classroom. For some children the lack of support can make their experience of school so difficult they discontinue, leaving parents to home school them instead or they develop behavioural problems which may lead to exclusion from school. In addition. the lack of support affects self esteem adding mental health issues to their difficulties.

Unfortunately, a lack of funding in health services means that waiting lists vary around the country but consistently exceed the 3 month-guidelines from being referred to assessment. Although there is a growing number of pilot schemes whereby mental health professionals and counsellors go into schools to provide a service, thus avoiding waiting lists, the service will not include professionals trained in autism. NHS Trusts in general provide assessment services for autism under Learning Disability Directorates as opposed to Mental Health Directorates. In addition, local authorities also lack funding for support and placements leading to a lack of local places for pupils who need to attend a dedicated school, in some cases forcing them to board or be home schooled instead.