Autism Spectrum Condition - School Information and Resources


Almost every school in Cumbria will have least one child with an autism spectrum condition because autism occurs in more than one in 100 children. (National Autistic Society 2016).

Autism is a complex condition that requires knowledge and understanding from teachers, support staff, parents and peers in order to effectively support the individual.

A variety of strategies and resources can be used in the school setting and at home.

It is hoped that this information will help schools and parents to significantly improve the experience of children and young people with autism.

In order to include and support individual children and young people with autism in mainstream schools it is important to have a sound understanding of the nature of this lifelong complex condition, which has day to day implications for work in schools.

It is important to combine this with an individual understanding of the child or young person's differences in relation to their autism

What is autism?

"Autism is a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them."  (NAS 2016).

Autism affects all children and young people differently, but all will have difficulties and differences in four key areas of their development. They have problems in understanding the world in the way others do. Each child will have a unique profile that includes their personality, strengths, needs, likes and dislikes.

Strengths can include: attention to detail, can be highly skilled in a particular area, detailed knowledge of specific areas of interest, tendency to be logical, strong sense of justice, visual learners and loyalty, to name but a few.

It is important to have an awareness of the four areas of difference and to understand the different impact of each aspect for each individual pupil.

The Four Areas of Difference are:

  • Social communication

  • Social interaction

  • Rigidites of thought and behaviour which includes difficulties with social imagination

  • Sensory differences

The 4 areas of difference are not distinct and each impact upon the other.

Additional information can be found at: 

The Autism Edcuation Trust - What is Autism? / Autism Education Trust

The National Autism Society - What is Autism?



Social communication and interaction

This is an area of challenge for many children and young people with autism. Individuals may be non-verbal or pre-verbal, use augmented alternative communication or be verbally expressive.

Individuals may:

  • Have no spoken language, have limited understanding and use of non-verbal communication (gestures and body language) and this can lead to misunderstanding.
  • Have limited language to make requests to meet basic needs.
  • Have limited social language which can create difficulties in social interaction. Emotional vocabulary may be absent or limited, facial expressions flat, the child or young person may be misinterpreted as lacking feeling and emotion.
  • Have echolalia (repeating the speech of others).
  • Reverse pronouns; e.g. they may say "You want a biscuit" when they mean "I want a biscuit".
  • Have idiosyncratic speech; eg  speaking with a monotone, difficulties recognising / using rhythm, pitch and intonation. They may speak with an unusual accent that differs from that spoken in their own family or locality; eg American.
  • Have a literal interpretation of language and struggle with similes and metaphors.
  • Have difficulties understanding implied meaning or working out someone's intention. This can lead to social misunderstandings. Individuals may miss the subtleties of playground or classroom behaviour and this can lead to social isolation.
  • Have difficulty understanding facial expressions and making connections between what is said, how it sounds and the body language /facial expressions that are used.
  • Find eye contact problematic.
  • Children and young people with autism frequently behave differently and present with behaviour that is difficult to understand. This behaviour may be a form of communication but is often not understood clearly by those around them.
Rigidities of thought and behaviour which includes difficulties with social imagination

This is often observed in early life in relation to social play and cognitive development. A teacher, parent, or carer may notice idiosyncrasies in the quality of play observed in very young children with autism; eg they may focus on aspects of a toy such as the wheels of the car and enjoy them at a sensory level rather than there being a social element to their play.

Socially, children with autism may be observed to play alongside (parallel) other children rather than with them. Social imagination underpins social and intellectual growth. Children with autism find it difficult to think ahead and to consider the consequence of actions.  Therefore, their social behaviour is often reactive.

Children and young people with autism are prone to inflexible and rigid thinking. This may manifest through insistence on sameness: the child may always want to sit in the same place or do things in the same order. Many children with autism eat a limited range of foods and this is an example of their rigidity.

They may have:

  • A different perspective to others and find it challenging to recognise the impact of their own behaviour on others.
  • Difficulties in retaining and applying sequences. Individuals may benefit from routines and activities that are regular or repeated.  Visual support can be beneficial in enabling the child to be successful.
  • Rigid ways of approaching activities. Children with autism usually prefer to complete tasks rather than return to them, as breaking and shifting attention can be difficult and a source of anxiety.
  • Learned skills that are context specific; generalising and transferring these to other contexts may need support.

Inflexible thinking can be linked with a literal interpretation of language, eg if the child is told that the activity will finish at 1pm, they are likely to expect it to finish precisely at this time and may be distressed if it does not. 

Vague terms, such as, maybe, perhaps or later can cause anxiety as they lack precision and are thereby meaningless terms.

Some children and young people with autism show a high level of dependency on routine on sameness. This aspect of autism is often misconstrued as meaning that there must never be any change around the pupils with autism this is misleading. Change and unpredictability are part of daily life. However people will not become desensitised to change just because it occurs around them and it can be a source of stress and anxiety. It is important to recognise the extent to which this may be an issue for individual children. Minimising unnecessary change where possible will be beneficial.

Sensory differences

Many children with autism process the sensory information about the environment and themselves differently.   Senses may be over (hyper) or under (hypo) sensitive.  These differences can be observed in the way individuals respond to different stimuli.  Individuals with autism often do not filter out extraneous non-essential stimuli.  As a result, this impacts on how fast information can be processed with individuals being easily overloaded and distressed by too many stimuli.

Hypersensitivity relates to senses being easily heightened and quickly stimulated (over -sensitive).  Tactile and auditory defensiveness - negative responses to textures, touch and sounds is often reported in individuals with autism.

Hyposensitivity relates to senses needing more stimulation to trigger a response (under-sensitive).  Weak proprioception (the feedback we get from our muscles and joints to provide a sense of self and sense of spatial awareness) and weak vestibular (balance) feedback can mean individuals need to move more or enjoy fast moving experiences/spinning.

Sensory seeking often relates to children who are often under sensitive to triggers but may actively seek activities and items that provide stimulation.  Often such children do not regulate stopping and starting activities and can become easily overstimulated. 

Altering the environment to reduce sensory stimuli is a practical method of reducing the distress different stimuli can cause.  Sensory audits for setting can be found on the Assessment tools link at the side. 

Providing activities that allow individuals to gain the sensory experiences may also help as calming methods. 

In some cases the sensory differences experienced by individuals may require more specialist support from an Occupational Therapist.

Useful links related to sensory:

Integrated Learning Strategies
Cosmic Kids - website and videos has activities that are presented in a child friendly way may help develop core and proprioception. 
Chewelry - offers toys for children who have oral sensitivities.  
A Stitch Different - is a Cumbria based company that can provide a variety of bespoke handmade  weighted therapy products and sensory item.

Contact us

Allerdale and Copeland
West Cumbria House
CA14 4HB

Carlisle and Eden
Cumbria House
117 Botchergate
CA1 1RD 

Telephone:  01228 226824

Children's Services
Top Floor - Craven House
Michaelson Road
LA14 1FD

Tel: 01229 407403

South Lakes
County Offices
Busher Walk

Telephone:  01539 713471 

Page last reviewed: 28/03/2023

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