The Autism in Schools Project
Autism in Schools is a project that started in the North-East Region about 5 years ago, which recognised the difficulties that were being faced by autistic young people attending mainstream schools. The project started by talking to parent carers and understanding the issues they and their autistic children and young people, were experiencing in the school environment. There were clear messages that the school environment often created real difficulties for autistic young people and relationships were placed under pressure because the needs of these young people were not being understood. This lack of understanding meant that small issues escalated and “too many opportunities were missed” to adjust support and avoid autistic young people and their families going into crisis.
Autism in Schools has shown how schools can provide positive environments and support for autistic pupils. It has four main elements;
- building relationships and networks of support for school staff, health and social care professionals, parent/carers and Autistic children and young people,
- developing learning opportunities for schools and Parent Care Forums,
- developing education and health support available for Autistic children and young people within schools,
- work to understand and promote the voice of Autistic children and young people within school.
This has included offering learning and development opportunities for school staff so that they understand the experience of living with autism and how it impacts the daily lives of students. There was a focus on using this learning to deliver change and actively making a difference to the lives of autistic students and their families, therefore participating schools were expected to share information with the project about any changes implemented. Schools were also supported to work with the local CAMHS to respond to sensory environment and communication audits and thinking about implementing a whole school approach to supporting autistic students.
Autism in Schools also encourages schools to work in partnership with SEND families, creating opportunities for parent carers to come together, to provide support to each other, share information and to co-produce solutions to any issues identified. Schools were also supported to provide opportunities to enable autistic young people to directly share their experiences and to understand more about what living with autism means in their words.
In 2021 Autism in Schools was extended so that pilots could be run throughout England and PACC were part of the successful North Midlands Autism in Schools (NMAIS) bid. The NMAIS pilot covered Staffordshire, Stoke on Trent, Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin, working with 12 schools in this area. You can find out more about NMAIS on the PACC website http://www.paccshropshire.org.uk/autism-schools-pilot
The evaluation of year 1 of NMAIS can be read here
The national evaluation report of Autism in Schools can be read here
Year 2 of NMAIS started in Sept 2022 with an increased focus on creating a local joined up approach to supporting autistic students in mainstream education. We are working to establish a Children’s and Young People Neurodevelopmental Network across Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin, which will bring staff from education, health and social care together with representatives from the Parent Carer Forums to understand each other’s role in supporting autistic young people and their families.
Work with Ignition from year 1 is continuing, with the intention to create a short film and other resources that will help schools to understand the experience of autistic students and what they can do to improve this. Discussion are continuing with the BeeU Service (CAMHS) to consider how more support can be provided via schools for autistic young people or those waiting for assessment.
PACC will also continue to work with schools to develop positive relationships with parent carers and to provide opportunities for parent carers to come together and connect with the wider local support offer.
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