The National Autistic Society Scotland is calling on schools to provide all autistic children with a personalised transition plan to help with their return to school in August.

The lock down has been extremely challenging for many families with autistic children. The huge change to routine and daily life together with strict restrictions resulting from the lockdown has led to distress for many autistic children putting families under huge pressure, often with very limited support.

According to the Scottish Government there are 6500 autistic children across Scotland. A third of autistic children also have a learning disability and, in many cases, also mental health difficulties.

Families have been under huge pressure juggling home schooling and working from home as well as supporting their autistic children. Some schools have provided specialist educational support throughout the lockdown while many others have not.

Families have reported that some home education packages received from schools have been either poor quality or generic and not differentiated for their child’s needs, so they have struggled to home school effectively and are worried that their children have fallen behind.

Similarly, many autistic children have now settled into a different routine, with limited social interaction outside of the family. They may well have been affected by the virus itself whether through illness of a parent or relative or even bereavement which can be all the more traumatic if that person also had a role in providing care and support.

All of these things combined mean that many autistic children will find returning to school in August difficult and in some cases even distressing, particularly as there are likely to be fundamental changes to daily school life.

We are therefore calling on schools to make sure that every autistic child has a personalised transition plan to aid their return to school in August. This might include visits prior to school starting, more autism awareness among staff, safe spaces, accessible information and videos showing any changes to layouts or school rules as well as a principle contact for parents.

Nick Ward, Director of National Autistic Society Scotland said:
“Many autistic children will have been out of school for over 4 months by the time the new term begins. Some have coped very well. Others however, have struggled under the strict restrictions and huge change to routine and we’ve heard from families under severe pressure with profound impacts on mental health and wellbeing.

We know that change can be incredibly challenging for autistic people. It is important that transition back into school is handled sensitively and in a personalised way. Transitions are already hard for autistic children, often because of a lack of support or understanding about autism, and that’s why we’re calling on schools to make sure that each and every autistic child has a personalised plan with input from parents to make the transition as smooth as possible. We don’t feel that this is too much to ask in a system which should be focused on getting it right for every child.”

Suzanne who lives in Dunfermline said:
“The lock down has been hugely challenging for us as a family. I’ve had to stop my Open University course together with my volunteering in order to care for and educate by two autistic children.

Callum has quite significant needs and doesn’t understand the restrictions so it has been difficult to follow social distancing and I’m worried it will be very hard when he goes back to school as he has a compulsion to run up and touch or hug people.

Emma is very different and is quite quiet. She has enjoyed lockdown to some extent, particularly with us being together as a family. She is however, very anxious about returning to school and has really struggled with sleep because she is so worried.
Both my children have very different needs and so their transition back into school will need to be done with lots of understanding and support. The school have been quite helpful in my case and have offered to talk things through but I worry not everyone out there will get the same level of help.”

Notes to editors:
For more information, please contact Rob Holland, External Affairs Manager at // 07958057363

The National Autistic Society Scotland is a leading charity for autistic people in Scotland and their families. They provide local specialist help, information and care across Scotland to autistic people, their families and carers. Their Education Rights Service provides impartial, confidential information, advice and support on education rights and entitlements. 

What is autism?

  • Autism is a lifelong disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world.
  • There are approximately 56,000 autistic people in Scotland.
  • According to the Scottish Government’s 2018 Microsegmentation analysis (P76) there are 6500 autistic children of school age.
  • All autistic people have difficulties with communication and social interaction.
  • Autism is a spectrum condition. This means autistic people have their own strengths and varying and complex needs, from 24-hour care to simply needing clearer communication and a little longer to do things at work and school.
  • Although everyone is different, people on the autism spectrum may:
    • be under or oversensitive to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours, which can make everyday life extremely difficult
    • be unable to or find it harder to speak, need longer to process information or find it hard to hold conversations
    • experience intense anxiety around unexpected change and in social situations
    • become so overwhelmed that they experience debilitating physical and emotional ‘meltdowns’ or ‘shutdowns’.
  • Without the right support or understanding, autistic people can miss out on an education, struggle to find work and become extremely isolated.

Guidance to aid transition from National Autism Implementation Team (NAIT)

We welcome materials and guidance produced by NAIT (an organisation set up over a year ago to aid implementation of the Scottish Government’s broader strategy) for professionals which are of a high quality and represent good practice as we see it.

However, we are aware that not all schools and local authorities are utilising these materials and we continue to hear from parents who have received little from their schools in terms of transition support.

We believe that individualised transition plans should be based on this good practice. You can view this here.