In this article, SEND expert Kate Gillespie explores the importance of strategies and training in identifying and working with autism in the early years.
According to the most recent government statistics (2022/23) over 1.5 million children in the UK have Special Educational Needs. 1 in 3 children with an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) are on the Autism Spectrum.
The National Autistic Society estimates that there are around 700,000 adults and children on the autistic spectrum in the UK and that equates to around 1 in 100 people. However, this does not include those without a diagnosis. For many of us working within the early years sector that means that we are often the first professionals to identify children who may need to go on for further assessment.
With that in mind it’s so important that early years professionals have access to high quality training and are equipped with a “toolkit” full of strategies and approaches that will help them to support, nurture and educate individuals on the autism spectrum during their time in nursery. A whole setting approach and positive attitude towards autism is the first step in providing consistent support for the children in your care.
Good open communication with parents is also vital to help us to meet the child’s individual needs. Whilst some parents are ready for those conversations around assessment and diagnosis others may need more time to understand and process the next steps for them as a family so, our sensitivity and understanding is key to these discussions.
When children arrive at your setting this is likely to be their first experience of interacting with other children outside of the family home so, some parents may not be aware of any differences yet. With the right set of skills and knowledge we can notice differences in children’s interactions, processing, communication and sensory and recognise how to best meet their needs.
In working together as a team and valuing the parents role as the child’s first educator we can provide them with a positive experience at nursery and help parents to see that a diagnosis is not a label that will hold their child back but a way for us to work together to meet their needs in an individualised way.
Early support and identification makes a huge difference to young children and means that by the time they reach school age they are already equipped with a set of familiar strategies that they can take with them into school life and beyond into adulthood.
Consistency, predictability and routine are key supportive elements for all children with autism. Providing this approach in our settings will ensure that their experience with us is a positive one and will give them a sense of security and understanding.
Kate Gillespie is a Specialist SEND Practitioner and one of the directors of SEND training and consultancy company – Sendtac Ltd. She has worked with children with SEND for many years in mainstream provisions and more recently in a local authority advisory role. She enjoys working closely with early years and school staff to implement strategies and build their confidence in supporting children with additional needs in their settings. She has a particular interest in Sensory Processing differences and the impact it can have on children’s ability to learn, socialise and regulate their behaviour.
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