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Supporting Children with Medical
and Mental Health Needs at School


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Neurodiversity is an umbrella term used to describe the different ways a person’s brain processes information. It is estimated that around 1 in 7 people in the UK are neurodivergent. Autism comes under this umbrella. 

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The National Autistic Society describes Autism is a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world. More than one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK. 

Autism is a spectrum condition, like all people, autistic people have their own strengths and weaknesses.  People with autism may also experience anxiety, mental health conditions and learning disabilities. 

There is continuing debate on the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Condition. Currently more men and boys are diagnosed than women and girls. The figures from historical studies are being questioned, particularly around the diagnosis of girls with Autism. It is argued that current diagnostic tools are usually based on male characteristics leading to an under diagnosis of girls. In 2017 a systematic review of existing prevalence studies was carried out and found that the male to female relationship was nearer 3:1. (1)

Features of autism

  • Difficulties with social interaction which can appear as a lack of understanding and awareness of other people’s emotions and feelings.
  • Challenges with language and communication skills which can show as delayed language development or an inability to start or properly take part in conversations.
  •  Patterns of thought and or physical behaviour like making repetitive physical movements.
  • These actions can show as hand tapping or twisting and developing set routines of behaviour which can then cause the child to become very upset if the routines are then broken.
  • Some people may experience sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light, colours, temperatures or pain.
  • Some people have highly focused interests, often from a fairly young age. This can make them expert in particular things. It can also help with doing well academically as they may be very focused on their studies. Some people may neglect other areas of life if they become particularly engrossed in their interests.
  • A range of specialist education and behavioural programmes have proved effective in developing and improving the skills of children and young people with autism.

Supporting students with autism

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  • Talk to the student and their family to find out what strategies help them manage at home.
  • Design routines that take account of the student’s individual strengths and needs. 
  • Consider the sensory environment, as many people with Autism have heightened sensitivity to smell, sound and sensation.
  • Ask parents / carers if the young person has a sensory profile and if so, use this information when organising the classroom.


  • Use of metaphor is unhelpful.
  • A calm voice and clear instructions are helpful.

Learning environment

  • Establish clear classroom routines, this helps all students in the class.
  • Provide a calm and quiet space for working in class and a time out area for when the classroom becomes overwhelming.
  • Use a student's interests as a starting point for learning new things.

Reducing anxiety

  • Distraction activities such as mindfulness colouring, fiddle toys and puzzles can help reduce anxiety.
  • Provide ear defenders to minimise noise, this helps concentration as well as reducing anxiety.
  • Whenever possible give warning to a change of routine.
  • Explain in advance what will happen on school trips or unfamiliar school events.
  • Offer reassurance, repeatedly if necessary.

More information

(1) What is the male-to-female ratio in autism spectrum disorder? A systematic review and meta-analysis
Loomes R, Hull L, Mandy WPL, 2017

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HOPE (Hospital Organisation of Pedagogues in Europe)