Autism and Complex Communication Needs
The team supports teachers and education professionals to meet the individual teaching, learning and wellbeing needs of autistic students in their educational setting.
The Autism and Complex Communication Needs team are qualified specialist teachers and specialist practitioners with vast experience of addressing the needs of autistic children and young people from early years to higher education.
Are you a school or setting who needs further support and guidance
Schools and settings can purchase support from our team; see below for further information on what is delivered as part of our traded offer or contact the team to discuss support and training requirements.
Complex Communication Needs Referral
Autism and Complex Communication Needs service level agreement
The Autism team can offer support and advice to help learners with autism or similarly presenting complex communication needs to achieve their full potential. We will support you to build the capacity of your setting to meet the individual needs of children and young people from Early Years to further or higher education. It is our preferred method to empower the setting – and individuals within it – to be able to continue our work beyond our direct involvement to build a setting’s capacity and to benefit further young people.
Work with children and young people includes:
- detailed report to identify need and strategies
- modelling specific strategies and resources
- transition support
- support with reintegration
- supporting with emotionally based shool avoidance
- study, planning and organisation skills
- individual pupil sensory profiles
- Ooe page profiles
- emotional regulation
- autism awareness mentor programme
- advice on adapting the curriculum
Developing whole-school autism provision:
- support to implement the graduated response
- school autism-friendly audit
- sensory audits
- emotional Literacy sessions
- evidence based approaches such as Lego based therapy, homunculi
- peer awareness
- development of lunchtime and after school clubs
- consultation approach to improving provision
- enabling family conversations
- parent workshops
- drop-in surgery
Our support is not limited to the solutions listed
Upon enquiry an adviser will recommend the hours required to address your specific concerns and ensure you get the best value from your SLA purchase. Schools can purchase bespoke time-based consultancy or packages of set hours. Purchase your services through our online store.
School autism champion
An ongoing training programme to develop awareness, understanding and skills in respect of effectively supporting pupils with autism in your school.
- autism specific training to a member of staff, who will become the school autism champion for your setting
- telephone support from the Autism and CCN Team
- regular and exclusive resources and advice to share with your school, pupils and parents
- access to termly champion meetings; join a community of autism champions for ongoing training and peer support
Suitable for any member of staff who is committed to developing the school’s autism provision and changing the daily lives of children with autism.
The Champion is designed to be the person at school who can have autism-focused conversations with staff to help develop practice and understanding across the setting.
All Champions receive an initial set of 3 online sessions and then termly meetings which focus on best practice and current research. Scheduled 90-minute Champion meetings will take place 3 times throughout the year. Training and meeting dates will be published and available to book via CPD online.
Autism Awareness Mentor
The Autism Awareness Mentor programme enables a member of staff to become a mentor to children within the setting with autism.
Mentors will receive the training and support to effectively deliver an individualised programme of autism awareness to a pupil. This intervention is currently undertaken by a member of the Autism and CCN team and is among some of the most powerful and effective interventions that can improve the lives of young people with a diagnosis of autism. The Autism Awareness Mentor will be able to work with the pupil to support them with their understanding of how their diagnosis affects them.
- theory and practical training
- close support from the Autism and CCN team to deliver the first full individual support programme with a pupil
- ongoing support from the Autism and CCN team
- access to termly Mentor meetings, join a community of autism mentors for ongoing training and peer support
Training will take place over set scheduled dates throughout the year in agreement with the school. Scheduled 90-minute Mentor meetings will take place 3 times throughout the year. Training and meeting dates will be published and available to book via CPD online.
The Autism Awareness Mentor programme is not to address specific difficulties, such as attendance or anxiety related responses. It is about opening the conversation around a diagnosis of autism in a gentle and supportive way; and arriving at outcomes that provide a basis for moving forward.
Autism training for staff
The increasing number of children and young people with autism presents challenges to staff at a time when resources are stretched and school leaders face many competing demands.
An understanding of autism in schools will improve the lives of children and young people on the autism spectrum.
Our highly experienced specialist teachers and practitioners can provide training on:
- autism awareness and understanding
- practical and strategic training for all
- levels of staff to support your school in meeting the needs of children and young people on the autism spectrum
- whole class strategies
- specific individualised strategies and interventions
We provide flexible, bespoke training to suit individual school needs.Training can be delivered as whole-day INSET or as twilight sessions.
To discuss your training needs
Contact the Autism and CCN team.
Resource: Circle of friends
- key skills targeted are social and emotional, friendships and self esteem
- suitable fo all age ranges
- staffing implications an adult to lead activity
- no resources needed
- likely outcomes are greater inclusion, peer awareness and increased self esteem
- to increase the level of inclusion of pupils who might currently be excluded from their peer group
- to develop the social and emotional skills of those pupils identified as members of the group, for example, the ability to listen, to reflect, to evaluate, to empathize, to problem solve, to understand, identify and cope effectively with feelings (of self and others)
What is Circle of Friends?
In a 2014 study it was found that “All participants believed Circle of Friends benefitted students with ASD and their peers, as well as themselves":
Reference: Schlieder, Marylou and Maldonado, Nancy and Baltes, Beate. (2014). An investigation of “Circle of Friends” peer-mediated intervention for students with autism. The Journal of Social Change. 6. 27-40. 10.5590/JOSC.2014.06.1.04.
The ‘Circle of Friends’ intervention is aimed primarily at improving the inclusion of children with challenging behaviour, SEN or personal concerns within mainstream schools. It works by gathering the student’s peers in a circle of friendly support to help the young person with their problem solving. This approach can also be widely used with all students who are struggling to find support or friendship.
Who will benefit?
The child who may be feeling isolated or excluded will benefit as will their peers who learn supporting and empathy skills. The school community more widely is likely to become more reflective and inclusive.
How to implement
Adults play a key part in the approach, especially at the start of the programme, but then most of the work is carried out by "the friends". Early on in the intervention, the key adult meets with the student and their chosen group for around 20 minutes per week to help them with their problem solving together as a team.
Initially, the child draws a picture of his or her circles of support, beginning with him or herself. The child is in the center circle. The first ring around the circle includes the people closest to the focus person, usually parents and siblings. The second ring includes friends who care about the focus person and want to be involved in the process. The third ring includes the professionals who help with medical, therapeutic and educational needs and those who facilitate the planning process.
Next, the facilitator (the teacher or TA) gives a short presentation about the child’s needs to the group of friends. This may mean the child’s classmates at school or a different set of peers, depending on the situation. The presentation may be done in the presence of the child, or with the child absent if that makes the child more comfortable. At the end of the presentation, the peers are invited to volunteer to be in the Circle of Friends for the child. Around 6 is recommended.
The circle must commit to meet on a regular basis over a period of around a year, with the hope that peers will choose to remain in the circle on an extended basis. At regular meetings, the circle identifies areas in which the child needs assistance, develops creative strategies and learns how to interact effectively with the child.
Circle of Friends provides an ongoing and cost-effective strategy for schools, because the facilitator is only needed for around 30 minutes per week, and the peers and the child apply their strategies for the rest of the week. It’s a pro-active way to help prevent bullying and build a sense of community in the school.
What does Homunculi mean?
Homunculi (plural of homunculus) means a very small human (or “little person).
What is the Homunculi Approach?
The Homunculi Approach is a Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) programme for children and young people on the Autism spectrum or with emotional and behavioural difficulties.
The approach aims to build social and emotional resilience in children and young people, especially for those with high functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome who often have difficulty identifying troubling feelings such as anger, fear and anxiety.
As part of the Homunculi approach a child/young person is asked to invent their own Homunculi characters (agents) and stories. These Homunculi agents are used to help the child/young person tell a problem solving story in which the agents help out with real-life distressing thoughts, feelings and behaviour. The activity of storytelling helps the child/young person to learn to cope with social problems.
What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy used to help manage problems by changing the way someone thinks and behaves. It is most commonly used to treat anxiety.
Resource: School transition
Transition Early Years to Primary
Transition and change is hard for most of us and is often a particular source of anxiety for those on the autism spectrum. The Autism Team have created these tip sheets and editable Word resources around transition to support settings, parents/carers and children. They are designed to be used to inform and support an individualised transition plan. Included is a Transition Plan and Information Booklet which should be adapted for the child by school and home. Also included are some sample Pupil Profiles which should be sued to share key information about the child. These resources are provided for settings and home to use and adapt to meet the needs of Early Years and Primary Age children and to help make transition more planned and more successful.
Transition Primary to Secondary
Transition and change is hard for most of us and is often a particular source of anxiety for those on the autism spectrum. The Autism Team have created these tip sheets and editable Word resources around transition to support settings, parents/carers and children. They are designed to be used to inform and support an individualised transition plan. Included is a Transition Plan and Information Booklet which should be adapted for the child by school and home. Also included are some sample Pupil Profiles which should be sued to share key information about the child. These resources are provided for settings and home to use and adapt to meet the needs of Secondary age pupils and Primary children (or equivalent) moving up to their next setting to help make transition more planned and more successful.
Resource: Selective mutism
- high levels of anxiety are present
- children will often appear shy, unsure or on their guard which is in direct contrast to how they behave at home
- children can also appear to be behaving in an oppositional way by resisting attempts of support, when that support is to encourage social interaction
- you might also recognise children as being hyper-sensitive, perfectionists or reserved and reticent
- there are things you can do and you also need to know when to ask for additional help
Information, strategies and approaches
Selective Mutism is when children or young people can understand and speak but only elect to speak freely with people they know and feel comfortable with, such as, family members and when no one else is present.
- to provide you with some initial facts and strategies to use with children and young people
- to support the child through a difficult and often a distressing time in a calm and consistent way
- to provide predictability in response for the child
- to reduce any perceived feeling of threat that the child may be feeling
- to provide reassurance through movement and body language, using few words
- the child will feel supported and the adult implementing the strategies will feel they are doing something supportive and useful for the child or young person
- to move the child or young person into a position where they can respond verbally when needed and build confidence
What is Selective Mutism?
- selective Mutism is characterised by a consistent failure to speak in settings such as school and social situations and is understood to be a developmental, anxiety disorder
- children and young people will speak in the home and other places they are comfortable
- children and young people will often only speak to people they are familiar with, such as family members
- it interferes with educational achievement
- failure to speak is not accounted for by another communication disorder
Who will benefit?
The child or young person, their families and everyone involved in their education and care
Next steps – initial tips and strategies
- you are endeavouring to equip the child with the confidence to respond verbally within an educational setting, through the reduction in their anxiety. Reducing anxiety around speaking can be achieved by providing them with understanding, reassurance and opportunities to grow and be able to respond verbally when needed
- it is important to build trust through consistency of support through an adult with whom the child can become familiar with
- remain calm when in the presence of the child and show the child that you are in not bothered by their difficulties
- investigate whether there are certain people or places in the school where the child appears to be more comfortable and use these people and areas for when delivering interventions
- provide plenty of play based activities where you can build a relationship with a young child; and craft, practical and art-based activities for older children
- a strong supporter, in this case, is one who can remain quiet during activities, in the initial phase and not feel the need to comment
- this will be the basis of forming a strong relationship with the child
- provide opportunities to play with a quiet peer and offer support for older children through partner working with a carefully selected peer
- within the classroom: initially build rapport with one or two people – an adult and a peer
- maintain relationships by offering consistency of approach, so the child will develop trust
- ensure the child regularly works in a pair, with a peer they have built a relationship with
- discover the pupil’s strength’s and use them as often as possible to build confidence
- use social scripts and comic scripts to chat through scenarios
- where relevant, refer to what is going on in the room and do not expect a response
- this will support the child to feel part of the group
- particularly if it is something interesting or amusing
- praise the child for following rules and interaction for interaction that is not speech
- encourage activities with quieter children
- ask the child to do jobs for the teacher with another quiet child
- do not expect responses but continue to talk, inform and direct the pupil as usual
- do not show irritation or impatience when there is no response – this will make anxieties worse
- do not prolong eye-contact and when a child meets your eyes return it with a brief smile and look away
- do not ask direct questions as this will put pressure on the child to speak
- create a pupil profile to share with all adults working with the pupil
- this should contain information about the difficulty and specific guidance for supporting the pupil with Do’s and Do not’s
- when adults working with the child are comfortable and have experience responding and the pupil is showing signs of increasing confidence, further interventions to support the child to move on can start to be implemented
Intervention is not to ‘make the child speak’ it is for an adult to build a relationship with the child and as the child becomes comfortable, to provide opportunities for the child to use gesture, such as pointing; and much later to provide opportunities for them to speak, using simple one word answers, such as ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
Additional advice from the Autism/CCN Team can be provided on how school can move forward with their support for pupils with Selective Mutism. Advice and training for individuals working with pupils can be provided.
Meet the Team
- Nicholas Appleton - Specialist Teacher
- Emma Bone - Specialist Teacher
- Joanna Chandler - Specialist Practitioner
- Colin Esrich - Specialist Teacher
- Stephen Fessey - Specialist Teacher and Autism/ CCN Team Lead
- Gemma Halstead - Specialist Teacher and Autism/ CCN Team Lead
- Nicky James - Specialist Teacher
- Sarah Summers - Specialist Teacher
- Kimberly Turnbull - Specialist Teacher
For more information on any of the services contact