A free online resource developed to support the inclusion of autistic learners in Scottish Early Learning and Childcare settings, Primary and Secondary schools.

BGE Early Years

Estimates tell us that around 1 in 100 children have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD); this suggests that we have many autistic children in our early years and childcare settings.

Text saying early years and childcare in a blue and green oval shape

At this early stage, some children may already have an identification of autism through paediatric health colleagues. Other children may not have an identification; irrespective of this the early years setting will be working with the family to support a child who appears to have social communication difficulties which may or may not lead to investigation for autism. 

Early recognition and intervention ensures that children can receive the most appropriate support and in turn benefit from the best outcomes.

Children with autism present with a variety of strengths, difficulties and sometimes behaviour issues.  For these children the cause of behavioural difficulties usually relates to the core symptoms of autism.  With suitable support and adaptation, these learners can thrive in early years settings and will feel safer, less anxious and have an increased understanding of what is expected of them. This, in turn, will mean that the child is more likely to have increased attainment, improved engagement and is less likely to display challenging behaviour.

The Early Years level and Autism

The Toolbox section on Understanding Autism provides a range of information. All autistic children have impairments in social communication, social interaction, social imagination and a preference for routines. Many have sensory issues and a restricted pattern of behaviours. When planning to support an autistic child in the early years and childcare settings it is important that there is an understanding of the way in which these factors affect the individual child. 

For example, some children with autism may also have a good or above average range of vocabulary. However, having a complex vocabulary does not mean that the child will understand the same level of vocabulary, nor that the child will use language for meaningful communication.  

It is extremely important that autism is not perceived to be negative; there are the many positive attributes of children with autism and presenting autism as a ‘deficit model’ is not helpful. For example, autistic children may be skilled at paying attention to detail, follow clear rules and are honest. These abilities can be used to encourage engagement, and enable them to make their own, unique contribution within the nursery setting.

Supporting Autistic Learners within the Early Years of Broad General Education (BGE) phase 

The early years setting includes a focus on play-based approaches which may be difficult for a child who appears to have social communication difficulties or has been identified with autism. Understanding, support and differentiation in teaching styles and approaches will be needed and shared between home and early years setting/school to minimise difficulties the child may have in accessing the curriculum and engaging with their peers. 

  • Work in partnership with the family 
  • Use simple language
  • Be literal (for example, don't talk about it 'raining cats and dogs')
  • Keep routines consistent
  • Give plenty of warning about any change
  • Use visual cues (pictures or objects) to help communication and understanding
  • Tell your child what they should do, not what they shouldn't
  • Identify triggers (the things which seem to cause strong reactions) and try altering the environment to reduce the likelihood of further triggers
  • Ensure the classroom is an inclusive environment 
  • Use visual cues (pictures or objects) to help communication and understanding
  • Some situations will require additional planning in advance. For example:
    • Wet playtimes, 
    • Trips and excursions 
    • Outside learning
    • Joining a primary school assembly
    • Nursery visitors e.g parent/carer helpers, colleagues, emergency service talks 
    • Nursery productions – shows and concerts

To access the ‘Framework for inclusion: CIRCLE Early years select 'here'