Information for Parents, Educators and Allied Health Professionals

The successful collaboration of educators, allied health professionals and the Autistic community (Autistic individuals and their loved ones), has led to a wealth of early interventions that have demonstrated significant therapeutic outcomes for Autistic Children.

Promoting acceptance

Please support your students with learning differences by registering to take part in Neurodiversity Celebration Week https://www.neurodiversity-celebration-week.com/ resources

Leverage on the Child’s Strengths

Autistic children have exceptional attention to detail. They can be good at visual search tasks like finding an object within a complex picture. These exceptional visual skills may present due to a tendency to focus on details, rather than the whole. Autistic children are often good at learning by heart (rote memory). Autistic children can remember large chunks of information, in which they may display exceptional memory for facts and figures. You can encourage the child to use rote memory for learning useful information.

Autistic children can often focus intently and learn a lot about topics they’re especially interested in. Encouraging special interests is a highly effective way to motivate and engage students.If the child is disengaging or becoming distressed, consider if the child is having difficulty processing oral language. A lot of information in the classroom is presented orally, and it is important that you provide visual schedules and visual learning strategies. Visual thinking can be a strength for Autistic children.

An example of helping a student with executive functioning may include a visual support for task analysis.

The I Can Network https://www.icannetwork.com.au/ provides mentoring programs for both primary and secondary schools to create inclusive schools that celebrate the individual strengths of people on the Autism spectrum.
Sue Larkey is one of the leading academics providing valuable courses and resources to help teach children on the autism spectrum and make a difference.

Invisible Distress

Please don’t assume because the child could do something the day before that they will cope today. There could be a myriad of factors that may be influencing the child. Autistic children have difficulty with transitions (e.g., moving from one activity to the next and/or a change in the classroom environment). They may also be distracted by hyper-sensitivities that limit their ability to focus. Autistic children often prefer information to be presented visually. A lot of information presented in a class is oral and therefore the child may have difficulty processing oral language. Autistic children may have difficulty with internalising social norms. Autistic children may not maintain eye contact when you are talking to them and some people confuse this with inattention. When the child is looking off into space, they are likely trying to focus on what you are saying.

When the Autistic individual is tired and overwhelmed it may feel like they pre-set and practice for what could happen at any given moment.

Please find below a link to a short video of an Autistic person explaining why small change may be difficult https://youtu.be/deY72-1EVTI

Please don’t assume a parent is being lax by not picking up on every little thing. Things need to be worked on in ways that are conducive to the child (intervention is likely needed) and only when the child is in the right head space to do so. Remember families are doing their best on any given day and the struggle can be invisible. A child’s parent is a valuable resource, as they know their child best. A good teacher will tell you where to look, however they will not insist on what you must see. This is greatly appreciated by parents of children with special needs.The reality of most Autistic individuals/families is a calendar full of appointments that may range from Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, Psychology, Dietician, Physiotherapy, Paediatrician, early intervention, support plans, multi-disciplinary meetings, group therapy, private swimming lessons etc.

Hope, perseverance, and flexibility are crucial in supporting people who feel the weight of symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder as they work incredibly hard to centre the mind and body.

There may be perceived skill deficits including rigidity in thinking and a need for things to be explicit. For example, if the Autistic child hears a teacher say “put your hand up and I will answer your questions” the child may assume that they will have all-of their questions answered. The teacher may need to explicitly state “I will answer 3 of your questions throughout the day” and provide an intervention to help the child comply with the rule (e.g., providing three decorated paddle pop sticks that they can choose to use for the 3 questions they would like answered that day, or for an older child allowing them a notebook to write their question down). With early intervention and support, the child will flourish and become empowered to overcome these challenges.

Autistic children experience difficulties with emotional regulation. Demonstrating emotional attunement (a desire to understand and an ability to respect the child’s inner world) influences social and emotional development (self-regulation, attachment and a sense of self).
Dr Mona Delahooke discusses in her book ‘beyond behaviours’, the implementation of Neuro-biologically informed treatment models. Dr Delahooke provides an opportunity for an understanding of the brain/body connection, which has profound implications for how we understand, treat and support behavioural differences in Autistic children. Dr Delahooke supports development with a view that is respectful and inclusive.

It has been thoroughly discredited that Autistic individuals lack empathy. Research indicates that Autistic individuals possess difficulties with self-understanding and theory of mind, however not with affective empathy (Dziobeket., 2007). Autistic individuals are very sensitive to the emotional energy (sensitivity to other people’s moods) in a room and/or tone of voice. The Autistic Child can distinguish very subtle cues that others would not (sensitive empathic attunement). Professor Tony Attwood describes this as a sixth sense and likened the experience to the analogy of a negative emotion infecting a neuro-typical person at the strength of a cold, whereas the Autistic child is infected at the strength of the flu. This can be an overwhelming experience for an Autistic child. While all children must learn to emotionally self-regulate, this skill is critically important for Autistic children, as they are more susceptible to emotional contagion (the tendency to absorb, catch or be influenced by other people’s feelings). Emotional dismissal and/or misattunement are crippling for Autistic children who cannot easily bypass contempt and strongly need a deep and authentic connection. Autistic children are highly aware of their surroundings and need someone to validate their experience.

Autistic children experience subclinical inabilities to identify, label and describe emotions. Research indicates that a large proportion of Autistic individuals present with Alexythymia (Hill and Berthoz, 2010). Professor Tony Attwood suggests eloquent expression of music, lyrics, poetry, typing, email, or art to understand the individual persons experience.

Autistic children are loyal, honest, fun, caring and articulate children who have active and curious minds. Children often have a zest and hunger for learning and are fascinated by facts and their acute sensitivity to sensory experiences and stimuli gives them a remarkable view of the world.

Understanding the Significance of a Hyper Sensitivity to Sensory Experiences and
Autistic Burnout

Understanding the Significance of a Hyper Sensitivity to Sensory Experiences and Autistic Burnout

Please do not remove sensory breaks due to the child no longer asking for them. Autistic adults continue to need sensory breaks and report how helpful and necessary it is to rest, recover and recharge.

You can teach a person to repress their emotions and not react (they are no longer disrupting anyone) however what you don’t see is how much you are hurting the Autistic person. They may go home and scream for hours, have nightmares, physical symptoms (eg. Migraines or IBS) exhaustion (be incapable of leaving the house and needing to do nothing except sleep), experience escape ideation (suicidal thoughts, self harm), burnout etc. Please be compassionate. Please do not deny a child the right to leave a situation if it leads to physically discomfort and/or if they are exhausted. Just being in a classroom with bright lights, noises, transitions etc. can be exhausting.

Many Autistic children learn to mask their behaviours to fit in and be accepted by their peers and/or due to an assumption that neurotypical social skills are the only way to succeed in life. Time off without the mask is not only physically and emotionally exhausting (which can lead to burnout), it is particularly adverse for mental health (anxiety, depression), self-perception and self-esteem. Time spent without ‘masking’ and a passage of time to recover, may be needed.

An important first step to removing the mask is one of acceptance, before we can identify and embrace the many strengths and beauty of the Autistic person. When we can come to accept our whole selves, we can remove the mask that makes us feel hidden, rejected and disconnected.

“Autistic burnout is a state of physical and mental fatigue, heightened stress, and diminished capacity to manage life skills, sensory input, and/or social interactions” (Raymaker, M.D.)”. To learn more, please refer to the visual guide below produced by the Autistic Women’s Network that highlights signs, causes, and strategies in relation to Autistic Burnout.

Exposures alone will not always work (You must address the symptoms of Autism):

As with any child, if they become controlling of their environment as a way of coping (which is not due to symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder) then it may be beneficial to continue with an exposure to allow the child to develop skills or strategies so they can manage their emotions when faced with such triggers. For example, all children need to learn to sit with their emotions until they dissipate on their own accord and cope with triggers that are unavoidable for later success socially, emotionally and academically.

Unlike a neurotypical child, repeated exposures to a situation will not always benefit an Autistic child. In fact, repeated negative exposures will do more harm than good. The symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder must be addressed, and developmental gains also need to be considered. The distinction I make about being more flexible is if it is a hypersensitivity that is making the child feel overwhelmed or if they can’t understand or cope with a situation because their brain works differently. In these situations, you must address the symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder, by providing a therapeutic intervention and/or appropriate accommodations (e.g. a social story to help understand what is expected of them).

Pathological demand avoidance is characterised by an overwhelming need to avoid or resist demands, due to past negative experiences or burnout.

Please find below links of suggested strategies for pathological demand avoidance https://www.pdasociety.org.uk/

Innovative Ideas Designed by Autistic Children

Cadence – Autism through a child’s eyes https://iamcadence.com/
https://aumi.app/ Developed by Ethan Shallcross, the new self-care app designed to help make everyday life a little bit easier and to reduce anxiety, burnout, and meltdowns.

Judgemental Assumptions are Not Helpful

I have witnessed professionals making unfair judgemental assumptions that an Autistic child is defiant, does not listen or is lazy and this can result in professional feeling the need to lecture parents on how to parent their child. Autocratic leadership that demands people obey completely, without taking account of other people’s wishes or opinions is not conducive to a healthy working relationship. It is also not helpful if a neurotypical staff member uses their own experiences as a point of reference to decide what a child should be capable to cope with (For example, “I don’t like making mistakes either, but I have learnt to cope”). If something is irrational to you or you do not feel the same, it is important to acknowledge that it feels very real to an Autistic person experiencing the symptoms. Open-minded people seek to understand. Regardless of the expertise of a professional, hope and perseverance are essential when working with Autistic children to ensure decisions are not overly reactive to a specific situation and parents are provided with research informed suggestions. Most crucially, it is important for the child and their parents to feel understood and for treatment approaches to be flexible to the individual child and families’ goals/needs.

Insights about Autism

Written by Erin Bulluss, Ph.D., and Abby Sesterka – Published in Psychology Today

“The choice to avoid environments that are cognitively demanding is a choice to preserve our energy for other tasks. It is the choice to accept help, to do things differently; not because we are difficult, demanding, or disagreeable, but because we are autistic and have different strengths and limitations than non-autistic folk. We accept that this may be viewed negatively by those who don’t understand us, our experiences, and our needs. Ultimately, it is not worth compromising our well-being just to avoid being seen as lazy or difficult by people who are judging us against neuro-normative standards. This means allowing ourselves the latitude to exercise self-care without shame or self-reproach. For many years, the therapeutic space around autism focused on modifying the behavior and superficial presentation of the individual in order to align with expectations of society. This enforcement of behavior that is not innately autistic is at odds with the concept of authenticity. There is increasing awareness and understanding that it is not ethical to prioritize normalization over mental health and well-being, and there is a rise in approaches that aim to better meet the individual’s needs and preserve their autistic nature while supporting development and teaching skills as needed” (Bullus & Sesterka, 2002).

Distinguishing Empathy vs. Theory of Mind

Empathy is a recognition and understanding of the states of mind of others, including their beliefs, desires, and particularly emotions. While empathy is known as emotional perspective-taking, theory of mind is defined as cognitive perspective-taking (the ability to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different to one’s own). A young Autistic child may become upset if someone does not know the answer to a question or experience difficulty with anticipating what others will say or do in a variety of situations.

From years of clinical practice, I have learnt that Autistic individuals experience deep empathy, so much so that they often cannot watch the news as they are distressed by what happens in the world and as small children this level of empathy is beyond compare (so much so that they become highly distressed by the suffering of others).

When you hear people using the term ‘on the spectrum’ as a way of explaining something else, please correct them and break down incorrect myths!

Accommodations in Schools may Include (This is by no means an exhaustive list)

*Please note the following supports are dependent on diagnosis, resources and funding

A diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder provides understanding, resources and support. Early intervention is crucial to ensure that your child is receiving adequate treatment and support for perceived skill deficits. Therapy Based Interventions focus on communication, social development and sensory motor development.

If you child has a disability or learning need, they are entitled to a student support group meeting every term and individual learning plan. The goals of an Individual Plan are to document the child’s strengths and needs identified through a collaborative process with a multidisciplinary team of educators, allied health or early intervention providers, and the family. The plan will incorporate how the specified goals will be achieved (e.g. reasonable adjustments for the student), monitored and reviewed accordingly. Please find below a link for more information.

If the child is overwhelmed (please see website link preventing meltdown escalating), help redirect the child to a quiet place by giving them a sense of purpose (e.g. feed the school chickens, take an important note the principal, help return a book to the library).

If the child is not eating at school, it may be helpful to allow them to eat during a different time when their is less sensory overwhelm. Autistic children will often experience a decreased appetite in highly stimulating environments. Autistic Children often exhibit restrictive food intake.

Please find below articles that may be of interest – ASD and Eating Disorders (ARFID-Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder).

Ultimately we need to empower Autistic girls and boys to feel comfortable to ask for accommodations unique to their needs.

Early Intervention (Implemented by Allied Health Professionals and Educators)

Early intervention provides therapeutic treatment to promote; joint attention, sensory motor development, building skills in the area of completing daily and school activities, self-regulation skills, learning body clues for feelings, social thinking, perspective taking and more.

I would also like to add to the above early intervention team, the importance of group therapy that allows Autistic children to connect to their tribe.

https://www.yellowdoorkidstherapyhub.org/ – kids therapy through gentle empathic connection
https://www.yellowladybugs.com.au/ is dedicated to shining a light on autistic girls and women through creating positive and inclusive experiences

Early Intervention (Implemented by Allied Health Professionals and Educators)

Early intervention provides therapeutic treatment to promote; joint attention, sensory motor development, building skills in the area of completing daily and school activities, self-regulation skills, learning body clues for feelings, social thinking, perspective taking and more.

I would also like to add to the above early intervention team, the importance of group therapy that allows Autistic children to connect to their tribe.
https://www.yellowdoorkidstherapyhub.org/ – kids therapy through gentle empathic connection
https://www.yellowladybugs.com.au/ is dedicated to shining a light on autistic girls and women through creating positive and inclusive experiences

This is by no means an exhaustive list however it gives an indication of therapeutic modalities that are demonstrating significant therapeutic outcomes with Autistic children.

We Thinkers, Volume 1 and We Thinkers, Volume 2 curricula consists of detailed lesson plans, in-classroom structured activities, educational plan goals, and learn-at-home family letters. Volume 1 introduces the following Social Thinking concepts and vocabulary: Thinking Thoughts and Feeling Feelings, and The Group Plan. The concepts in Volume 2 build off those in Volume 1: Hidden Rules and Expected and Unexpected Behaviors, Smart Guess, Flexible and Stuck Thinking, Size of the Problem, and Sharing an Imagination. We thinkers was created by Ryan Hendrix, Kari Zweber Palmer, Nancy Tarshis & Michelle Garcia Winner. https://www.socialthinking.com/About
You are a Social Detective and Superflex provides educators, parents and therapists fun and motivating ways to teach students with social and communication difficulties. You are a Social Detective includes social thinking concepts such as; School Smarts/Social Smarts, Expected and Unexpected Behavior and Being a Social Detective. Superflex, Superhero Social Thinking Curriculum is a three-part cognitive behavioral curriculum that helps students develop further awareness of their own thinking and social behaviors and learn strategies to help them develop better self-regulation across a range of behaviours. https://www.socialthinking.com/About

Professional Development

I highly recommend attending Events run by

Please find below resources developed by Yellow Ladybugs on Supporting Autistic Girls at School
http://autisticgirlsatschool.com.au/
Reference list:
Hill, E.L., & Berthoz, S. (2006). Response to “Letter to the editor: The overlap between alexithymia and Asperger’s Syndrome”. Fitzgerald and Bellgrove. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36, 1143-1145.

Dziobek, I., Rogers, K., Fleck, S., Bahnemmann, M., Hauke, R., Heekeren, H.R., Wolf, O.T. & Convit, A. (2007). Dissociation of cognitive and emotional empathy in adults with Asperger Syndrome using multifaceted empathy test (MET). Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38, 464-473.

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