Information for school about autism and my child

new to diagnosis - information for schools
 
 
Many children are diagnosed with autism before they start school. Parents of these children may have noticed differences in their children’s development at a very young age and the child’s differences and difficulties were noticeable to other people as well, leading to a diagnosis of autism in the preschool years. In many cases, this means that the school the child attends was chosen with the child’s autism already recognised. 
 
The parents of children who are diagnosed later in childhood may have had a different experience. While these parents may also have recognised differences in their child’s development from an early age, it took longer for these difficulties to be recognised by doctors, clinicians and diagnosticians and for the child to be diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Sometimes, this will be because the child’s difficulties are more subtle or because they coped with their social environment as a young child but became overwhelmed as things became more complex. In some cases, a child’s difficulties may have been attributed to language difficulties, anxiety or attention difficulties that the child has, rather than the underlying autism.
  
Parents in this situation have reported that one of the main needs when their child’s autism was identified was information to share with their child’s school. The aim of this information sheet is to provide parents with a resource that they can complete and provide to their child’s school. 

What is autism?

Autism is a developmental condition that affects the way a person communicates and interacts with other people and his or her environment. The differences seen in people on the autism spectrum include social communication difficulties and strong interests and repetitive behaviour. People on the autism spectrum can also have an intellectual disability and/or language disorders. These differences and difficulties vary from one person to another: some young people on the autism spectrum require a great deal of support across all areas, while others will require a lower level of focused support to cope in everyday settings.
 
Every young person on the spectrum is different, with different strengths, skills, interests and difficulties. A diagnosis of autism is not made lightly; rather, it can take several professionals some time to determine whether the behaviours and difficulties experienced by a child mean that they meet the criteria for a diagnosis of autism. Not all characteristics of autism may be evident at school; teachers may not always see the difficulties that parents observe at home. 
 
Some of the characteristics that are typically seen in school-aged children on the spectrum include:

Communication and social interaction

  • Limited use of spoken language for communication
  • Monotonous in tone (e.g. sounds robotic or rehearsed) 
  • Repetitive language, with frequent use of certain phrases, or with content dominated by excessive information on topics of interest 
  • Talking ‘at’ others rather than a two-way conversation 
  • Reduced social interest in peers
  • Difficulties forming and keeping friendships
  • Differences in imaginary and social play with other children
  • Reduced awareness of socially acceptable behaviour, difficulties changing behaviours to suit different settings
  • Limited use of gestures
  • Differences in the use of eye contact

Restricted interests and/or rigid and repetitive behaviours 

  • Repetitive movements, such as hand flapping, spinning, and finger flicking 
  • Sensory seeking (e.g. touching, smelling) or avoiding behaviours (e.g. limiting use of toilets because of smell, distress in noisy environments).
  • Repetitive play and focused on objects rather than people 
  • Over-focused or unusual interests – these interests may be a personal strength for the child or may be highly motivating or calming. 
 
All children on the spectrum will show different characteristics and not every child will show every sign. It is important for parents and teachers to understand the individual strengths and difficulties seen in the individual. For more general information about autism, go to: www.positivepartnerships.com.au/about-autism 

Understanding an individual student’s autism  

Autism results in different strengths and difficulties for every child. This section will help to build a profile of the young person that this information is focused on. It can be completed by parents to give to teachers, or may be completed by parents and teachers together. This information can form part of a Positive Partnerships Planning Matrix. 
See Planning Matrix for instructions and Matrix templates. 

Communication

What strengths does this young person have in communication? (e.g. able to talk in sentences, able to provide a lot of detail, able to get messages across to teachers, beginning to talk with peers, able to have short conversations, able to talk to anyone)
 
Communication strengths
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
 
What difficulties does this young person have with communication? (e.g. difficulty with conversations, limited communication when stressed, can use physical means when upset, provides too much detail, uses echolalia which can be confusing, doesn’t understand slang or sarcasm, difficulties following instructions)
 
Communication difficulties: 
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
 
What helps my child?
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________________________________

Social Interaction

What strengths does this young person have in social interaction? (e.g. kind to others, gets on better with younger children, interested in other students)
 
Social interaction strengths: 
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
 
What difficulties does this young person have in social interaction? (e.g. difficulties forming friendships, becomes silly around other children to get attention, difficulties with play)
 
Social Interaction difficulties: 
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
 
What helps my child?
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________________________________

Interests and repetitive behaviours

What are the strong interests or passions for this individual? Does this young person have any repetitive behaviours or things that need to be done in a certain way?  Any important rituals or routines?
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
 
What helps my child?
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________________________________

Sensory processing

Does this young person have any difficulties with sensory processing? (e.g. overwhelmed by sound, afraid of sudden noises, seeks touch or smell). Consider sensory avoiding and sensory seeking behaviours.
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
 
What helps my child?
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________________________________

Information processing

What learning strengths and difficulties does this young person show? Consider executive functioning (e.g. organisation, planning), visual strengths, attention.
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
 
What helps my child?
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________________________________
 
This information can be used to complete a Planning Matrix.  The Planning Matrix is a simple tool that provides an individual snapshot of a young person on the autism spectrum. The Planning Matrix can be completed by a team of people including the young person where possible. It is a useful way of documenting and communicating information between home, school and others working with the young person.