Please be aware that this section contains information prepared in 2009 and may now be out of date. Some links may no longer work. We are reviewing this section.
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School provision for children on the autism spectrum is made in a variety of settings — mainstream schools, autism specialist schools, special schools, residential schools, autism units attached to schools and resourced provision in mainstream classes (this is where additional funding is given to a school to enable them to provide more staff or other types of resources to enable a child with special educational needs to be educated in mainstream).
With the strengthening of parents' right to a mainstream place for their children and the recognition that there are many more able children on the autism spectrum than was once thought, there are now more children identified as being on the autism spectrum attending mainstream school. In addition, staff within special schools and units are developing ways of providing access for children on the autism spectrum to mainstream schools, often by arranging for them to spend a number of sessions in a mainstream school, usually accompanied by their learning support assistant, or by part-time placement.
If your child is on the autism spectrum and their additional needs are such that they cannot easily be met through Early Years or School Action or Action Plus, then the local authority (LA) will have to make a statutory assessment of your child’s educational needs. After the assessment, if the LA decides that your child needs special help which is greater than can be provided from the school's resources, they may write a statement of special educational needs. This describes all of the child's needs and details all the specialist help and provision to meet those needs.
If your child is of pre-school age and undergoing statutory assessment, your local authority should provide you with a list of suitable schools that are close to you. They may provide you with a complete list of mainstream and specialist provision with guidance on which are the right places to look, or they may give you a select list of schools that they feel are right for your child. You can ask for a more comprehensive list if you feel you don't have enough information. Children usually need a statement to access a placement at a special school, so those without statements may find that their choices are more limited.
If you don’t feel that your local authority is giving you sufficient information about available provision then sources of information on autism specific provision is available in the ‘get help from’ section below.
Some schools may have autism accreditation, a quality assurance programme which some services, like schools, choose to be a part of. However, a school which suits one child on the autism spectrum may not suit another, so don't discount schools which aren't accredited - they may be the most appropriate for your child.
What different types of schools are there?
The following types of schools are available (although not all these types of school will necessarily be available in your local area).
• Mainstream schools: many children on the autism spectrum are educated in mainstream primary and secondary schools. If your child has a statement of special educational needs, they may have extra support in school for a set number of hours a week.
• A base or unit within a mainstream school: some mainstream primary and secondary schools have classes for pupils on the autism spectrum within them. The pupils access the mainstream school when appropriate and are educated in the base or unit for the rest of the time.
• Special schools: these are schools specifically for children with special educational needs. The pupils they cater for vary: some are just for pupils on the autism spectrum, while others are for pupils with moderate or severe learning difficulties, pupils with physical difficulties, or a mixture of the two.
• Residential schools: these schools can be for children with varying needs or specific needs. Pupils stay overnight and have a 24-hour curriculum - meaning there is support available 24 hours a day. Some have a 52-week placement, others go home at weekends or during the holidays. Parents and local authorities should agree any arrangements for a pupil's contact with their family and for any special help, such as transport.
• Independent or non-maintained schools: these schools can be day or residential, and mainstream or catering wholly or mainly for children with special educational needs, but none of them will be maintained by the local authority. Parents can choose to place their child at their own expense or to make representation to their local authority for a placement at an independent or non-maintained school (see the 'Parental Preference' section for more details) so that the local authority pays for placement.
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The National Autistic Society
The NAS publishes Schools, units and classes for children with autism and Asperger syndrome, which lists all the autism-specific provision they know of in the UK. This is available from their online shop.
The NAS also produces an Autism Services Directory which contains details of schools that cater for children and young people with autism. You can visit Autism Services Directory
to search for schools in your area.
If you are considering sending your child to an independent school, you can find information on those that take children with autism or Asperger syndrome in the Gabbitas guide to schools for special needs, which will probably be available through your local library, or from Gabbitas (see below).
Other disability charities such as I-CAN and AFASIC can provide information on schools for children with speech and language impairments. Contact details for all of these information services and charities can be found in the 'Links' section.
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The National Autistic Society
The NAS provides lots of information on autism and education and has a dedicated Advocacy for Education Service to help with getting the right kind of school support. Teachernet
Teachernet offers considerable information on all aspects of autism and educationI-CAN
works to support the development of speech, language and communication skills with children who find this hardAfasic
works in the field of speech, language and communication difficulties to help children and young people, their families and the professionals working with them. School Action, School Action Plus and Statements of Special Educational Need Gabbitas
provides information on independent special needs schools
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Nottinghamshire County Council Inclusion Support Service has established a team of Specialist Advisory Teachers and Teaching assistants to improve provision for children and young people on the autism spectrum. They have developed accredited training courses in autism with Nottingham Trent University for teachers and teaching assistants in Nottinghamshire schools, as well as full INSET day training for whole school staff development. They have also produced two interactive CD-ROMs, one aimed at the primary phase and the other at the secondary phase of education, to enable school-based staff to share effective practice across the county.
In addition a comprehensive toolkit for transition from each Key Stage includes such things as interactive CD-ROMs, passports, and tailored board games to help young people navigate their way round new schools.
An 'Enhanced Resource Autism Team' models best practice in schools and other settings for children with autism. This team consists of highly skilled specialist teachers and specialist teaching assistants who work intensively with schools to help them meet the needs of children with autism. The teacher's role is to ensure good whole school development and in particular the development of autism friendly settings, while the role of the TA is to model effective practice around teaching and communicating with individual children on the autism spectrum.
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