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Position statements

Ambitious about Autism campaigns for policy change to ensure all autistic children and young people are able to learn, thrive and achieve in the early years, in education, in employment and beyond. 

Here you will find the latest statistics, our own evidence relating to children and young people with autism, and our view about what this tells us. 

Over 80% of NHS providers report waiting times longer than the NHS's 12-week deadline for a medical diagnosis for autism. 

Early intervention, education and support are critical if children and young people with autism are to thrive. A lengthy wait for a formal diagnosis of autism often creates knock-on delays in children getting the right educational support. 

Ambitious about Autism’s research found that 46% of parents are waiting over 18 months - from getting a referral for an autism assessment to it actually taking place. This uncertainty and delay is very difficult for families to deal with. We need to ensure all waiting times meet the NHS’s 12-week deadline and once a medical diagnosis is received it should automatically trigger an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan assessment so that a child’s educational support needs can be promptly identified.

 

Parents are struggling with a lack of support after an autism diagnosis. In a survey of nearly 4,000 parents carried out by Ambitious about Autism, over 70%  said the support they received wasn’t good enough. In many cases, parents reported being left “completely alone” without a follow up appointment or signposts to sources of support, for example, speech and language therapy. To support parents, Ambitious about Autism has created the Right from the Start online toolkit to help parents navigate their autism journey in the early years. 

In 2019, 132,345 pupils were receiving support for autism as their primary need

The number of children receiving help for autism in schools has more than doubled in the last decade. As the numbers of children with autism continue to grow, we must ensure the education system is equipped to support them with adequate resources, autism confident staff and the right mix of schools.

 

There are 106,349 boys and 25,996 girls receiving help for autism in schools.

It is recognised that girls with autism remain under diagnosed, compared to boys. This has been attributed to girls displaying autistic traits in subtler ways than boys or being more adept at ‘masking’ their autism. 

While it is true that more boys are receiving support for autism in schools – the number of girls also receiving support has increased significantly in recent years. For example, the number of girls with an EHC plan stating autism as their primary need has doubled in the last decade.  

This indicates that diagnosis services are getting better at spotting autistic girls and we will continue to see more of them in our education system in the future. This also means that all schools should be prepared for these pupils and ensure the support they offer is able to meet their needs. 

 

72% of autistic children are in mainstream schools and academies. 

In the last decade, there has been a big rise in the number of children and young people with autism in our school system. However, the proportion in mainstream schools and academies has remained constant at around 70%. In 2019, just over 36,000 pupils were being educated in special schools.  

Some children need a specialist setting to reach their full potential, however many can thrive in mainstream education with the right support and effective planning. All schools should have an inclusive ethos and a focus on what is in the best interest of each child.

 

Local authorities must decide whether to grant an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan within 20 weeks of the initial assessment. However, in 40% of cases this deadline is missed.  

An Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan is a legal document that sets out the special educational needs of a child or young person, the outcomes they should achieve and the support they need to reach these goals. They are a vital tool that helps many autistic children and young people unlock the support they need at school or college to meet educational outcomes. When local authorities miss deadlines for issuing EHC plans, it means children face delays getting the support they need, often in the crucial early years of education. 

Ambitious about Autism’s survey of 4,000 parents revealed that 15% of families are waiting between six and 12 months to receive an EHC plan. 

In 2019, 5,679 parents had to appeal decisions made regarding their children’s Education, Health and Care plans. Nearly half of these (2,458) related to decisions made about autistic children. 

The tribunal process is highly stressful for parents and carers and delays the support children receive at school or college further. Tribunals are expensive – not just for parents but also the taxpayer. The majority of tribunal cases involving children with autism are won by parents or conceded by local authorities. Local authorities should be basing their decisions on each child’s support needs and certainly shouldn’t be swayed by any other considerations – such as financial pressure. However, from our work with parents and young people, we’re concerned that local authorities’ decisions are not always based on solely on the needs of the child.

Exclusions of autistic pupils are increasing rapidly. Between 2011 and 2016, there was a 60% increase in formal exclusions of autistic pupils. Latest figures show 4,500 pupils with autism were excluded in one year. 

The impact of these exclusions can’t be underestimated – not only do children fall behind academically, but the isolation from their peers creates deep unhappiness, social anxiety and mental health problems. 

Our evidence clearly shows children with autism are disproportionately at risk from exclusion, compared to other pupils. 

We were disappointed with the findings and response to the Timpson Review of School Exclusions which we felt did not address the underlying reasons why autistic children are disproportionately excluded.

To tackle the exclusion problem, we would like to see: 

  • Ofsted given more power to thoroughly investigate unlawful exclusions and take appropriate action. 
  • All school staff - including teaching assistants and support staff – given training in understanding autism.
  • A strengthening of the accountability system to ensure schools and local authorities are incentivised to support children with autism, for example examining whether to make schools financially and academically responsible for children they exclude or place in alternative provision.

Only half of teachers (53%) feel they have been adequately trained to support autistic children in the classroom. Meanwhile, an Ambitious about Autism survey revealed that 97% of parents feel that teachers should get better training on autism. 

We believe that schools should follow the new model introduced by the NHS, which sees all health and social care staff receive mandatory learning disability and autism training and that all school staff, including teaching assistants and support staff, should be given training in understanding autism. We also think that school governors should receive better training, especially those who are likely to hear exclusion appeals.

 

School is too often a hostile and anxiety provoking place for autistic children and young people. Fewer than 1 in 4 young people with autism access education beyond school

Ambitious about Autism's research revealed that 60% of autistic pupils have such high anxiety that they miss days at school as a result. Meanwhile, the number of pupils with autism who are persistent absentees from school has also increased in the last few years.

Sadly, we also know that bullying is a fact of life for many autistic pupils and as a result, many of these young people also experience mental health issues. We must make sure that school is a welcoming place for all and keep these children so they can reach their full potential.

According to Ambitious about Autism research, 80% of parents have lost sleep over finding the right educational setting for their child. We also know that a fifth of parents have had to give up their job, miss days from work or reduce their working hours due to the unlawful exclusion of their son or daughter from school. 

Meanwhile, many parents also have to battle through the courts to get their child the support they need – costing families both financially and emotionally. 

Every child has a basic right to a full and rounded education, but too often autistic pupils are being denied this. A school system that only works for some pupils is not fit for purpose – we must make education, no matter what setting, more inclusive.

 

Only 16% of autistic people are in full-time paid work; with a similar amount in part-time employment giving an overall rate of 32%.

99% of young people with autism want to work, but only 19% say they have had good careers advice.

We know there are still many barriers preventing autistic young people from entering the workplace, including hiring practices and non-inclusive workplace cultures. This is a huge waste of talent – and has a knock-on impact on individuals’ sense of purpose and wellbeing.

Diversity in the workplace has huge benefits, not just to the wider economy, but also to the generation of ideas and innovations within organisations.