Transition plans are needed to help autistic children return to school following lockdown

Type: News Item Date Published: 22nd July 2020
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National Autistic Society Scotland is calling on schools to provide all autistic children with a personalised transition plan.

The lockdown 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.

The National Autistic Society Scotland is 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.”

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