Autism, also called autism spectrum condition (ASC), is a lifelong condition that affects how a person relates to other people and communicates with them. People with autism will experience the world differently. These differences can bring challenges as well as unique strengths.
On this page you will find strategies, resources and links to help. For school age children and young people, we would direct schools to completing Zones of Regulation sessions (see Films and Training), you will be required to upload evidence of this if making a referral. If you are thinking a referral may be needed please contact Therapy One Point 0300 123 2650 to discuss the child before taking this step.
Films and training
Zones of regulation
Sensory circuits intervention involves a sequence of physical activities, and can be great for children with sensory processing disorders. Parents can do sensory circuits at home as well as the programme being completed as school.
Parents and carers
Help for day to day life
- use your child's name so they know you're speaking to them
- keep language simple and clear
- speak slowly and clearly
- use simple gestures, eye contact and pictures or symbols to support what you're saying
- allow extra time for your child to understand what you have said
- ask your autism assessment team if you can get help from a speech and language therapist (SLT)
- try ways to help them communicate, such as Signalong, Makaton or PECS
- read tips from the National Autistic Society on communicating with your child
- try not to ask your child lots of questions
- try not to have a conversation in a noisy or crowded place
- try not to say things that could have more than 1 meaning, such as "pull your socks up" or "break a leg"
Anxiety affects a lot of autistic children and adults. It can be caused by not being able to make sense of things going on around them, and feeling misunderstood or unaccepted by people who are not autistic.
Try to find out why your child's feeling anxious.
It might be because of:
- a change in routine – it might help to prepare your child for any change, such as a change of class at school
- difficulty identifying, understanding or managing their feelings
- a noisy or brightly coloured place – it might help to take your child to a calmer place, such as another room
If your child is often anxious, ask your GP about therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which may help.
Helping with your child's behaviour
Some autistic children have behaviours such as:
- stimming – a kind of repetitive behaviour (such as flapping their hands or flicking their fingers)
- meltdowns – a complete loss of control caused by being totally overwhelmed.
If your child has these behaviours, read our advice about how to help your child's behaviour.
Many children are "fussy eaters".
Autistic children may:
- only want to eat foods of a certain colour or texture
- not eat enough or eat too much
- eat things which are not food (called pica)
- have problems with coughing or choking while eating
- be constipated, so they feel full even when they have not eaten much food.
It may help to keep a food diary, including what, where and when your child eats. This can help you notice any common issues your child has.
Speak to a GP or your autism team about any problems your child's having with eating.
Many autistic children find it hard to get to sleep, or wake up several times during the night.
This may be because of:
- sensitivity to the light from smartphones or tablets
- problems with the sleep hormone melatonin
- issues such as hyperactivity or a health condition that affects sleep.
You can help your child by:
- keeping a sleep diary of how your child sleeps to help you notice any common issues
- following the same bedtime routine
- making sure their bedroom is dark and quiet
- letting them wear ear plugs if it helps
- talking to a GP about how to manage health conditions that make sleep difficult, such as a food sensitivity or breathing problem.
If these tips do not help, talk to your autism team about creating a sleep plan to help your child's sleep behaviour.
If your child's sleep does not get better, a GP might refer you to a paediatrician or child psychiatrist with experience of autism who can prescribe a medicine called melatonin to help your child sleep.
It's important that your child has regular check-ups with the:
- doctors treating any other conditions your child has.
Children over 14 who also have a learning disability are entitled to an annual health check.
Do not be afraid to let staff know what they can do to make it easier to go for check-ups.
Friendships and socialising
Some autistic children find it hard to make friends.
There are some things you can do to help:
- get ideas from other parents on autism forums and local support groups
- ask your child's school if they can help
- ask your autism team how to help your child communicate and socialise
- search the National Autism Society directory for local social groups that are autism-friendly
- read more advice about making friends from the National Autistic Society.
- do not put pressure on your child – learning social skills takes time
- do not force your child into social situations if they're OK being on their own.
Help with behaviour
Some autistic children may behave in ways that put a lot of strain on you and your family.
Some common autistic behaviours are:
- stimming (short for 'self-stimulating behaviour'), a kind of repetitive behaviour
- meltdowns, a complete loss of control over behaviour.
You may hear health professionals call some behaviours "challenging".
Some autistic children can also be physically or verbally aggressive. Their behaviour can be harmful to themselves or other people.
But remember, all autistic children are different and not every day will be challenging or stressful.
Why these behaviours happen
Many autistic children use a set of behaviours to help them manage their emotions and make sense of their environment. Sometimes they're done for enjoyment.
Some things that can be linked to these behaviours include:
- being over- or under-sensitive to things like bright lights, noises, touch or pain
- anxiety, especially when routines suddenly change
- not being able to make sense of what's going on around them
- being unwell or in pain.
These behaviours are not your or your child's fault.
Stimming is a kind of repetitive behaviour.
Common stimming behaviours include:
- rocking, jumping, spinning, head-banging
- hand-flapping, finger-flicking, flicking rubber bands
- repeating words, phrases or sounds
- staring at lights or spinning objects.
Stimming is usually harmless. It may look odd to others, but you should not try to stop it if it's not causing any harm to you or your child.
Meltdowns are a complete loss of control caused by being totally overwhelmed.
If your child has a meltdown, the most important thing is to try to stay calm and keep them safe.
If you're worried your child might hurt themselves or others, try to hold them to keep them safe.
It's not always possible to prevent meltdowns, but there are some things you can do that may help at an early stage.
- letting your child wear headphones to listen to calming music
- turning down or removing bright lights
- distraction techniques, such as fiddle toys
- planning ahead for any change in routine, such as a different route to school.
It may help to keep a diary for a few weeks to see if you can spot any meltdown triggers that you can do something about.
Speak to the autism care team or a GP if your child is:
- stimming all the time or having lots of meltdowns
- being bullied at school because of their behaviour
- aggressive, harming themselves or harming other people
If you're struggling to cope, your child may be referred for professional support.
Find out more
- Where to get autism support
- National Autistic Society: coping with sensory differences
- The Challenging Behaviour Foundation: information and guidance.
Things that can help you and your family
- ask friends and family if they can help with day-to-day things or just be there to talk to
- get advice from other parents of autistic children or autistic adults – find out where to get support
- listen to other parents' stories – you can search online for blogs, videos and books
- ask your local council for a carer's assessment – you might be able to get extra support and financial benefits
- think about doing a course for parents of autistic children – such as the EarlyBird course from the National Autistic Society.
- do not feel guilty for taking time for yourself when you can – even just going for a walk on your own can help give you a break.
It's your choice when you want to tell your child about their autism.
Some parents do it straight away, while others wait until their child's a bit older. There's no right or wrong time.
When you tell your child, it may help to:
- do it when they're feeling calm or relaxed
- talk to them in a place where they feel comfortable, with no distractions
- explain they do not have an illness, but they might need extra support to help them with some things
- explain they might find some things harder than other people, and some things easier
- bring them to a support group to meet other autistic children.
Supporting your other children
Some children can find it hard if their brother or sister is autistic.
If you have other children, there are things you can do to help them.
- make time for them whenever you can – try to do some activities with just them
- talk to them about what's going on and ask if they have any questions or worries
- let them have time on their own or with their friends – for example, sleepovers at friends' houses
- check the advice from Sibs, a charity for siblings of disabled children.
- do not be afraid to involve them in things like meetings with health professionals – it can help them understand what's going on.
Find out more
- National Autistic Society: family relationships
- National Autistic Society: support available for carers in England
- Ambitious about Autism: parent toolkit.
One of the main decisions you'll have to make is the type of school you want your child to go to.
You'll have to decide if you think your child should go to a:
- mainstream school – a regular school where your child may get support from a special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) if they need it
- special school – a school for children with special educational needs
- residential school – where children stay overnight
- independent school – also called a section 41 school, which is not funded by the local council, so you might have to pay fees yourself.
This can be a hard decision to make and there might not be lots of choice where you live.
Read more advice from:
- National Autistic Society: deciding between a mainstream or special school
- National Autistic Society: choosing a school in England.
The National Autistic Society's education rights helpline can give advice about your child's rights, education law and how to resolve problems at school. Use the online form or call 0808 800 4102.
If your child can go to a mainstream school or nursery, you can help them get support if you think they need it.
- Speak to staff at the nursery or school
Speaking to staff at their nursery or school is the best place to start.
You could speak to:
- your child's teacher
- the school's SENCO.
Talk to them about your child's needs. For example, if they need help with communication, learning or social skills.
- Ask what support your child can get
Ask the teacher or SENCO what support they can provide.
This may be things like:
- extra teaching support for your child
- different ways of teaching that are better for your child
- separate lessons to help your child improve their skills.
This may be enough for some autistic children. Other children may need extra support.
- Get extra support if your child needs it
If your child needs extra support, they'll need an education, health and care (EHC) plan.
This is a document from your local council. It says what education and health needs your child has and what support they should get.
An EHC plan can either help:
- the school apply for extra money so they can support your child
- you apply for a place at a school that's better for your child.
Your child does not need to have been diagnosed with autism to get extra support.
Find out more about EHC plans:
- Ambitious about Autism: education, health and care plans
- National Autistic Society: education, health and care plans in England
- Ask your local council for an EHC assessment of your child's special education needs and disabilities (SEND). An EHC assessment can also be requested by your child's school, a health visitor, doctor, or relative.
- Have an assessment. The council will speak to you, the school and health professionals to work out what support your child needs.
- Read the draft plan. You can comment on the plan and add details, like the type of school you want your child to go to.
- Agree on the final plan.
The whole process can take a few months. Ask the school what support they can offer while it's happening.
The council may decide your child does not need an EHC assessment or plan. If this happens, it should tell you why.
If you do not agree with its decision, you have the right to appeal.
You'll be told how to do this when you hear from the council.
To get a place at a special school, your child will usually need an EHC plan.
As part of an EHC plan, you have the right to tell your local council what type of school you'd like your child to go to, or name a particular school you prefer.
The council can only refuse this if there's a clear reason why the school is unsuitable.
Getting support for your child can be a long and complicated process.
You can get advice about it from:
- Council for Disabled Children: find your local information, advice and support (IAS) service
- National Autistic Society: education rights helpline.
It may also help to speak to other parents of autistic children.
Going to school can be an anxious time for any child. Some autistic children might find it very hard.
You can get advice about it from:
There are a range of approaches used in East Sussex schools to support the development of the skills needed to manage regulation of emotions.
ISEND have created the following document “A Blended Approach to Supporting Emotional Regulation in Your Setting” which aims to demonstrate common principles of each approach and how they work in practice for schools.
Children's Integrated Therapy Service
Speak to the team for