Diagnosing your schoolchild with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

When your child starts school you may notice he or she has a problem with speech and language or interacting with other schoolchildren. This could mean they have an autism spectrum disorder – so what can you do?


What is it?

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a range of developmental disorders that can affect children from birth through to adulthood. There are three main types of ASD:

  • Autism
  • Asperger’s Syndrome
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified, or ‘atypical autism’ 

Your child is most likely to be diagnosed with an ASD when they reach preschool or school age, but the signs of autism may be apparent by the time your child is 12-18 months.

What are the symptoms?

The main sign is a language delay, as autistic children will find it difficult to communicate when other children are already learning how to read and write. Children with autism will also find it hard to socially interact with other children and their teachers.

Autistic schoolchildren may:

  • Be disinterested in what’s going on around them
  • Be unable to make friends or play with others
  • Hate being touched, held or cuddled
  • Be unable to understand or talk about their feelings
  • Avoid eye contact
  • React unusually to sights, smells, textures and sounds
  • Have an unusual posture or an eccentric way of moving
  • Not understand simple questions or directions
  • Have a difficulty communicating needs or desires

What can you do to help your autistic child?

All children learn at different rates and in various ways, but autistic children will need extra or more specific help at school. Speak to your child’s school to find out their written special educational needs policy (SEN) and who the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) is. SENCOs are responsible for assessing your child’s strengths and weaknesses and providing your child with an individual education plan.

Read our guide to your autistic child’s first day at school for more advice and tips on making everything run as smoothly as possible.

What else may your autistic child struggle with at school?


Your autistic child may have difficulty understanding why they have to do work for school when they’re at home, and after a busy day at school they may be tired and unable to concentrate.

Talk to your child’s class teacher about adapting homework to suit the needs of your autistic child.


Your autistic child may be unable to communicate with you if they’re being bullied. Children with special educational needs are three times more likely to be bullied than their peers, according to a survey by ChildLine. If your child is reluctant to go to school or comes home with dirty, damaged or missing clothes, bags or books, they may be being bullied.

Monitor your child’s behaviour throughout school and if you think he or she is being bullied, speak to your child’s teacher about sorting it out

What extra help is available for your autistic child?

Free transport


Autistic children may be eligible for free home to school transport, especially if they are under the age of 8, even if they live within the statutory walking distance. The local authority has a duty to make sure that travel arrangements are suitable.  Visit the National Autism Society for more information.

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