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What Is Autism National Autistic Society

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Autism And The Education System

What is Autism?

Education is a key part of every childs life but too many children with autism in England are not getting the education and support they need. Whilst there are specialist schools available, 71% of children with autism attend mainstream schools.

Research has shown that mainstream schools are frequently neither fully educated nor equipped to deal with the needs of an autistic child and give them the necessary support. This is particularly alarming as such a high proportion of children with autism do attend mainstream schools, suggesting a large number of autistic children are not getting the educational experience they deserve.

What Are The Current Regulations In The Uk

There are currently no regulations in place to ensure teachers in mainstream schools have qualifications and experience in teaching autistic children.

We contacted The Department of Education who could not give us any information in this area. We too contacted The Institute of Education at the University of London, who informed us that their teaching courses do not provide any training in teaching special needs children.

In order to have experience in teaching special needs children, teachers would have to go on to do a Masters degree in Special Needs.

Currently, the only regulation in place in the UK in mainstream schools is that every school must have a designated SENCO who will communicate the needs of the student to the relevant staff.

Dan Leighton, speaking on behalf of the National Autistic Society highlighted the issues: The problem is there is no initial teacher training in relation to teaching children with autism – this is not directly regulated by the Department of Education.

Leighton went on to say, Access to a specialist teacher is patchy, with relatively few local authorities providing autism advisory teachers for schools. It is the responsibility of the SENCOs and head teachers to ensure that staff have access to adequate training and expertise.

This highlights the lack of structure in the education given to autistic children – some head teachers and SENCOs may be more proactive than others.

Repetitive And Restrictive Behaviour

With its unwritten rules, the world can seem a very unpredictable and confusing place to autistic people. This is why they often prefer to have routines so that they know what is going to happen. They may want to travel the same way to and from school or work, wear the same clothes or eat exactly the same food for breakfast.

Autistic people may also repeat movements such as hand flapping, rocking or the repetitive use of an object such as twirling a pen or opening and closing a door. Autistic people often engage in these behaviours to help calm themselves when they are stressed or anxious, but many autistic people do it because they find it enjoyable.

Change to routine can also be very distressing for autistic people and make them very anxious. It could be having to adjust to big events like Christmas or changing schools, facing uncertainty at work, or something simpler like a bus detour that can trigger their anxiety.

Read more about repetitive behaviours and dealing with change here

Recommended Reading: What Is The Symbol For Autism

Social Communication And Social Interaction Challenges

Social communication

Autistic people have difficulties with interpreting both verbal and non-verbal language like gestures or tone of voice. Some autistic people are unable to speak or have limited speech while other autistic people have very good language skills but struggle to understand sarcasm or tone of voice. Other challenges include:

  • taking things literally and not understanding abstract concepts
  • needing extra time to process information or answer questions
  • repeating what others say to them

Social interaction

Autistic people often have difficulty ‘reading’ other people – recognising or understanding others’ feelings and intentions – and expressing their own emotions. This can make it very hard to navigate the social world. Autistic people may:

  • appear to be insensitive
  • seek out time alone when overloaded by other people
  • not seek comfort from other people
  • appear to behave ‘strangely’ or in a way thought to be socially inappropriate
  • find it hard to form friendships.

Read more about social communication and social interaction challenges here

Real People Real Stories

National Autistic Society
  • Play to your strengths! Success looks different for each person. Find out what it looks like for you.

    Emmanuel Abua

    Ventures ATL Employee

  • I celebrate myself for how I think and what it is that I value in life. I rest easy knowing that nobody can take that away from me.

    Kyle Corbett

    Ventures ATL Employee

  • Dont give up. It may take some time to find full-time employment consider volunteering to show you can be helpful and to develop your skills until the right opportunity comes along.

    David Hurwitz

  • So, autism makes me a super-hero. Im like Wonder Woman, right mommy?

    Isabella Bracco

    SC Braccos Daughter

  • This little boy, who fights the challenges of autism every day with such incredible energy and enthusiasm, not only teaches me what it means to be a dad, but what it means to be a man.

    Dan Olawski


  • Autism is not a burden or some super-secret weapon. Its simply part of ones identity. Its taken me 17 years to learn to accept myself and my diagnosis.

    Lee Passehl

Also Check: What Is The Life Expectancy Of People With Autism

The National Autistic Society

We are committed to supporting the National Autistic Society the leading Autism Charity.

Our multidisciplinary team have extensive knowledge and experience in working with children and adults with Autism, and understand how it important it is that people with Autism and their families access the support and advice they need.

The National Autistic Society provide a fantastic range of services to people with Autism, their families, carers, educators, and professionals. Their work includes:

  • Providing information, advice and advocacy services
  • Training for carers and professionals
  • Providing specialist school settings for people with Autism
  • Providing residential and care services for people with Autism
  • Providing Respite and out of school services for children with Autism
  • Supporting people with Autism to develop and get into employment

We want a world where all people living with autism get to lead the life they choose.

Social Media And Forums

There are many people with experience of autism offering support and sharing their stories on forums and social media.

You do not have to talk to others in online groups, but it can be helpful to look at what they’re saying.

A good place to start is the groups run by autism charities. But bear in mind the NHS does not monitor these sites.

Also Check: Can A Child Outgrow Autism

The National Strategy For Autistic Children Young People And Adults: 2021 To 2026

This publication is licensed under the terms of the Open Government Licence v3.0 except where otherwise stated. To view this licence, visit or write to the Information Policy Team, The National Archives, Kew, London TW9 4DU, or email: .

Where we have identified any third party copyright information you will need to obtain permission from the copyright holders concerned.

This publication is available at

Recent Studies From Other Countries

What is autism?


  • The Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network in the USA looked at eight-year-old children in 14 states in 2008, and found a prevalence rate of autism within those states overall of 1 in 88, with around five times as many boys as girls diagnosed .
  • The National Center for Health Statistics in the USA published findings from telephone surveys of parents of children aged 6-17 undertaken in 2011-12. The report showed a prevalence rate for autism of 1 in 50, .
  • A study of a 0-17 year olds resident in Stockholm between 2001-2007 found a prevalence rate of 11.5 in 1,000, very similar to the rate found other prevalence studies in Western Europe, .
  • A much higher prevalence rate of 2.64% was found in a study done in South Korea, where the researchers found two thirds of the people on the autism spectrum were in the mainstream school population, and had never been diagnosed before. .
  • Researchers comparing studies from different parts of the world over the past few years have come up with a more conservative estimate of 62 in 10,000. They conclude that the both the increase in estimates over time and the variability between countries and regions are likely thanks to broadening diagnostic criteria, service availability and increasing awareness of autism among professionals and the public, .

Recommended Reading: Is Dr Shaun Murphy Really Autistic

How Do Autistic Children Learn Differently From Other Children

Here our expert staff highlight the different teaching methods autistic children need: Pupils with autism require bespoke multi disciplinary packages which include therapeutic support to help them to engage with learning. They need predictable environments with structure and high levels of routine along with packages of social learning and interaction.

Our experts highlighted the importance of specialist teaching: The curriculum needs to be compensatory developed with an understanding of the triad of impairment, sensory processing issues and psychological theories to make it meaningful. Many pupils are highly visual learners and require instruction to be given in this manner.

Without these individualised supports across the school environment it is highly unlikely that a pupil with autism will make the academic and social progress that they should.

Steve is a blogger and was diagnosed with autism at the age of 48. He is also a tutor at the National Autistic Society. He highlights the difficulty he finds when communicating with others: I really dont understand people. Its like not being able to connect with whats going on around you, its like Im on one planet and the rest of the world is on another.

Steve highlighted the difficulty autistic children may face at school: Verbal instruction is almost impossible, its like the words come towards me and then they disappear before I get the chance to process them so it makes it really hard at work.

List Of Nas Schools And Facilities

The NAS manages a number of residential schools in the United Kingdom.

  • Anderson School near Bristol and in Chigwell, Essex for pupils/students between 11 and 19 years old
  • Broomhayes School & Children’s Centre in Westward Ho! and near Bideford, Devon, which has now been turned into an adult residential facility since the school got close to reaching its 30th Anniversary
  • Church Lawton School in Church Lawton, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire for academic pupils/students
  • Daldorch House School in Ayrshire, Scotland for autistic adults
  • Helen Allison School in Gravesend and near Meopham, Kent for pupils/students aged between 4 and 22 years old
  • Radlett Lodge School in Hatfield and in Radlett, Hertfordshire for pupils/students aged between 4 and 22 years old
  • Robert Ogden School in Thurnscoe near Rotherham, Yorkshire for pupils/students aged between 5 and 19 years old
  • Sybil Elgar School in Southall, Ealing and Acton, West London for pupils/students aged between 4 and 22 years old
  • Thames Valley School in Reading, Berkshire for academic pupils/students

Also Check: How To Tell If My Child Is Autistic

In Memory Of Rt Hon Dame Cheryl Gillan Dbe Mp

This new strategy honours and marks the contribution of Dame Cheryl Gillan, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Autism , and long-standing champion for autistic people and their families. Dame Cheryl, who died in April 2021, was instrumental in tackling the inequalities autistic adults face, when, in 2009, she brought forward the Private Members Bill on autism. Since its inception, the Autism Act has made an important difference to many autistic people and their families lives.

In addition, Dame Cheryl made significant progress in improving Parliamentarians understanding of autism by introducing autism understanding training, which over 100 MPs have undertaken. We have both completed this training and will be encouraging other Ministers and parliamentarians to do so going forward.

Improved Data Collection And Reporting To Drive System Improvement

Sir David supports the National Autistic Society

Over the next 5 years, we want to improve the collection and quality of data on autism used across public services to better support the needs of autistic people and their families. Autistic people interact with a range of mainstream and specialist services across systems, such as health and social care, education and employment, and there are still gaps in data across these areas. There have been significant improvements in autism reporting in recent years, including the introduction of autism diagnosis waiting times data collection, improved recording of autism in information about inpatient admissions and collection of data about the number of autistic people in employment.

Gaps in autism-related data have been highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is why we commissioned the London School of Economics to undertake rapid research to understand the impact of the pandemic on autistic people. While useful information about autism can be sourced from the bi-annual Self-Assessment Framework , the data collected is not mandatory or always comparable, which limits its utility in monitoring the implementation of the statutory guidance underpinning the autism strategy.

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Our Commitments In The First Year

In the first year, our key commitments will be to:

  • develop and test an autism public understanding and acceptance initiative, working with autistic people and their families, and the voluntary sector

  • continue to promote our disability equality training package for transport operators

  • resume the its everyones journey campaign to create a more inclusive and supportive public transport environment for disabled people

The full list of actions we are taking in 2021 to 2022 is set out in our implementation plan .

Autistic Women And Girls

More men and boys are currently diagnosed as autistic than women and girls. This is changing slowly but surely, as more women and girls are being diagnosed as autistic.

Attitudes towards autism and gender are changing, although we still have a long way to go. Many autistic women and girls are still struggling to get the support they need.

Here, we explain more about the gender diagnosis gap, share stories from autistic women and girls, and share some theories on why more men and boys are being diagnosed as autistic.

You can also visit our gender page here, where we look at autism and gender identity in more detail.

Read Also: Is Dr Shaun Murphy Really Autistic

How We Will Make Our Vision A Reality

Below, we set out our vision for what we want autistic people and their families lives to be like in 2026 across 6 priority areas, and the steps we as national and local government, the NHS and others will take towards this within the first year of our implementation plan . We will refresh this implementation plan for subsequent years of the strategy, setting out further actions we will take across government, working in partnership with local authorities, the NHS and the voluntary sector, as well as autistic people, to enable us to move closer towards our vision.

We will set measures of success for each of the priority areas in the strategy to make sure we can effectively monitor progress in year one and beyond, being clear about what we expect to achieve by 2026. This is important in knowing and demonstrating that we are making a difference to autistic people and their families lives. By the end of this strategy, we want life to be fundamentally better for autistic people, their families and carers. We want to be able to demonstrate that we have transformed autistic people and their families lives by:

Improving understanding and acceptance of autism within society

Improving autistic children and young peoples access to education and supporting positive transitions into adulthood

Supporting more autistic people into employment

Tackling health and care inequalities for autistic people

Building the right support in the community and supporting people in inpatient care

Strengthened Governance Leadership And Accountability

Amazing Things Happen – by Alexander Amelines

To ensure the actions set out in our implementation plans are delivered and make a real difference to peoples lives, we will refresh our governance structure for this strategy and develop specific measures of success for each of the actions we are committing to as part of this. DHSC, in partnership with the Department for Education, will establish a refreshed national Executive Group to monitor the delivery of the actions set out in the implementation plan, and hold action owners to account on progress. The new group will build on the existing Autism Strategy Executive Group, but will cover all ages, and will continue to include self-advocates, families and carers. We will work with self-advocates, as well as existing members to develop this new group.

At the local level, our expectation is that local authorities and the NHS must work in collaboration with each other and relevant local partners to take forward the key priorities in this strategy. This should be done in accordance with their legal duties to identify and support autistic adults, children and young people as stipulated in the following legislation and underpinning statutory guidance:

Recommended Reading: Life Expectancy With Autism

The Triad Of Impairments


  • In 1979 Lorna Wing and Judith Gould examined the prevalence of autism, as defined by Leo Kanner, among children known to have special needs in the former London Borough of Camberwell.
  • They found a prevalence in those with IQ under 70 of nearly 5 per 10,000 for this syndrome, closely similar to the rate found by Lotter. As well as children with Kanner autism, Wing and Gould also found a larger group of children who had difficulties with social interaction, communication and imagination , as well as a repetitive stereotyped pattern of activities.
  • Although these children did not fit into the full picture of early childhood autism as described by Kanner, they were described as being on the broader ‘autism spectrum’. The total prevalence rate for all autistic children with special needs in the Camberwell study was approximately 20 in every 10,000 children . Gillberg et al in Gothenburg, Sweden, found very similar rates in children with learning disabilities.
  • Other studies in different countries have also looked into autism and numbers of autistic children . These results range from 3.3 to 60.0 per 10,000. This could be due to differences in definitions or case-finding methods .

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