Autism Awareness and the early years

Working with young children in EYFS settings you may come across children who  are displaying certain behaviours (and you believe may perhaps be autistic) or who need additional support.

In many cases, very young children, will not have received any kind of formal autism diagnosis however it is really important at this stage that you understand their needs and that correct support strategies are in place for each child. The autism spectrum is very wide and varied but there are plenty of things you can do to work with the children facing these challenges and ensure they have the best possible care at this crucial stage of their young life.

In this blog we will talk, in brief, about the challenges some children may face, behaviours you could keep an eye out for and also some strategies and best practices you can put in place to support them.


Many children on the spectrum will have problems with communication. The severity of this can range from severe to mild BUT there are really simple practices you can put in place to support children with communication problems. Just by making the language you use more simple and using less words when giving instruction can be a big help. The use of visual supports work really well – using pictures, charts, timelines to communicate and let the child see very clearly what is happening next and what to expect will make a big difference to their expectations. Sometimes children need more time to process instructions and may need it repeating. Make sure you repeat the instructions calmly, using simple language and that you give them time to process and act on this information. Just be aware they may need a little longer in some situations than other children might.

It is also very common for children to need a very strong routine. This is comforting to the child and they will like to follow this routine with deviation. Sudden changes from this routine can be upsetting to them so always ensure, if a change must happen, that the child is given notice and time to process as well as clear, simple explanation about why the change is necessary. Every child will be different and the level to which they suffer with change will differ. Just ensure that the care plan for each child suits their basic needs.

Some children may find it hard to process sensory information. Some may not enjoy loud noises or react to light and temperature changes. This can be managed by understanding the child’s triggers and avoiding or pre-empting these situations and helping them through those times.

Mealtimes with small children can always be a difficult time but you may find that some children are sensitive to new foods or some textures. They may also resist trying new foods. You can help them through mealtimes in various ways though. Always keep calm and don’t punish if they do not eat food. If they are struggling in a group with others you may find they eat better sat alone where they can process it all alone. Ensure you praise if they eat something new and encourage them at mealtimes. Understanding that they find this hard is the key. Small steps, consistent routine, encouragement and praise will all help.

Within EYFS settings children learn through play and it is often encouraged for children to take the lead and choose the activities they take part in. Autistic children can find playtimes hard. They often like to play alone or repeat games and can sometimes find it hard to choose an activity OR be so focused on one activity they do not want to move on to something else. Encourage them by partnering them with children of similar interests or spend focussed time with them on new activities. You can also introduce more routine for them into this time.

In summary understanding the child is key. Work with the other workers (if you have colleagues) and the parents to build a profile of the child. Understanding their triggers and pressure points will help you to build a day which works for that child. Be calm, kind and consistent and use praise and simple language.

If you are interested in our Autism Awareness course we have one coming up on 25th November for just £25PP  10am-1pm . Just email the office ( or call 02476 714873

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