Autism Lens on Policy and Legislation

Relevant Policies and Legislation Supporting Autism and Inclusion 

‘Inclusion is the cornerstone to help us achieve equity and excellence in education for all of our children and young people.’

Scottish Government (2017) Consultation on the Presumption of Mainstreaming

Supporting Children’s Learning Code of Practice 2017 states that any child who needs more or different support to what is normally provided in schools or early learning and childcare settings is entitled to support to overcome barriers to learning.  This includes autism. 

Supporting Children’s Learning: Statutory Guidance on the Education (Additional Support for Learning) Scotland Act 2004 (as amended): Code of Practice (Third Edition) 2017 ( 

It is highly likely that staff will work with and support an autistic learner at some stage.  With this in mind, it is important for all staff to have an awareness of their professional and legal duties with regards to inclusion and an understanding of how to support autism.

Recent policies and legislation (click here)

A summary of the Legislative and Policy Framework which provides an overview of the most recent legislation and policies listed below is available to download. 

  • Disability Strategies and Pupils’ Educational Records (2002)
  • Curriculum for Excellence 
  • Additional Support for Learning (Scotland) Act 2004 (as amended 2009) (ASL ACT)
  • Code of Practice to support the ASL ACT
  • Equality Act (2010)
  • The Scottish Autism Strategy 2011 – 2018
  • Getting it right for every child
  • National Improvement Framework 
  • Scotland Delivery Plan 
  • Children and Young People Act (2014)
  • Education (Scotland) (2016)

Autism and the Equality Act (2010)

The Equality Act (2010) and the duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ apply to many learners who are neurodivergent.  In the film, a Senior Policy Officer explains what the Equality Act means in practice when we are supporting autistic learners.  There is an exploration of autism and disability and topics such as exclusions, reasonable adjustments for school trips or sports days and after school clubs are covered. 

ASL Review

In 2020, an independent review of the implementation of Additional Support for Learning legislation in Scotland was published.  The review was chaired by Angela Morgan.  Children and young people, parents and carers practitioners both in and beyond education were invited to contribute by sharing their views and experiences of inclusion in Scottish education.  The review led to a series of recommendations for improvement around nine themes.  The full report and recommendations can be found here: 

Review of additional support for learning implementation: report – ( 


A disability can arise from a developmental impairment, such as an autism spectrum disorder but a diagnosis of autism on its own does not mean that a child is automatically regarded as having a disability.  Similarly, a lack of diagnosis does not prevent a child from being regarded as having a disability. It is the effect that the impairment has on that person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities that would determine whether a child was protected under the law or not.  Specifically, whether there is a substantial, long term adverse effect. 
In practice, this means that many children with autism (with or without a formal diagnosis) will be regarded as having a disability whilst a smaller proportion may not.

In film textbox: 

Whilst not all children with autism will have a disability, schools should take steps to ensure each child has a positive experience at school.

Strapline across film  What does this mean in practice?

Schools need to be mindful of policies that treat all children the same and as a consequence put a child with autism at a disadvantage.  For example, expecting all children to take part in Sports Day without making any reasonable adjustments. Similarly, there should not be different rules for autistic children that then mean they miss out or get a less fulfilling service.  

Schools have to ensure they are not discriminating by reviewing policies and practices with giving due regard to the public sector equality duties. There should be discretion to put in place reasonable adjustments and take positive action where appropriate.

Strapline across film  Exclusions

The recent report ‘Not Included, Not Engaged, Not Involved’ highlighted the number of autistic pupils in mainstream schools who are either unlawfully excluded on a regular basis from the school or informally excluded from classroom activities, for example by being asked to sit on their own outside the classroom.

If the exclusion is because of the child’s disability, not only is it putting the child at a disadvantage, it also does not rectify the issue.  Children should feel included whether they are in mainstream or special school or a split placement.  The school should work with other professionals to identify a more acceptable means of addressing the issue.

Schools can justify exclusion on the basis of aggressive behaviour in circumstances where the exclusion was  proportionate.

In film textbox: 

In order to reduce the risk schools should put in place reasonable adjustments where it has been identified that behaviour could lead to a possible exclusion.

Strapline across film    Reasonable Adjustments for Camps

The reasonable adjustments duty is Anticipatory.
When class trips, residentials and camps are planned, the school should be considering in advance of the trip not just the children that are in that year group but also children whom they don’t know about yet but who may join that year group.  In other words, anticipate that children with disabilities need to be able to participate in any trip planned.  With advance planning it is more likely that an appropriate trip to accommodate all children will be identified.  

Strapline across film  Parents and Camps

Any cost for any reasonable adjustments should be included in the total cost of the trip and not transferred to individual respective parents. Parents should not be asked or expected to accompany their children, nor book accommodation near by to enable quick pick up if required.  

This does not stop the parent offering ways in which they would like to assist with the trip or with their own child participating in the trip.

Strapline across film  Sports Day

Many autistic children have sensory sensitivities that could lead to distress and discomfort in busy and loud environments, like Sports Day. In addition, some children have difficulties with motor planning and in coping with situations involving waiting, winning and losing. Schools staff should consider each individual child’s needs and concerns and make appropriate anticipatory reasonable adjustments.

Strapline across film Part-time Tables, Phased Returns and P1 gradual transitions

Sometimes, it may be in the best interests of the child to put in place a flexible or part-time timetable.  This should only be used as a last resort and should only be put in place alongside a plan to increase hours back to a full-time time-table.  
Sometimes, the school’s curriculum may not be completely suitable for a child and an appropriate alternative curriculum may need to be provided.

Strapline across film  Restorative Practice

Restorative Practice is often regarded as a better way to resolve conflict between pupils and manage pupil behaviour than traditional methods such as punitive discipline, rewards and consequences.  However, staff should be mindful that reasonable adjustments may have to be made if choosing to use this method with children who have autism. This approach is only successful if the pupil can fully understand the dialogue and reflect on the incident with analysis. Autistic learners may not be able to imagine and consider the perspectives and emotional responses of others and may not be able to generate ideas for resolution. So for many autistic learners, Restorative Approaches being used for conflict resolution, will not be appropriate.

Strapline across film  Collaborative Group Work

Collaborative Group Work is a popular technique for promoting learning amongst peers. Pupils with autism should not be excluded from this type of activity but may require support to engage in the activity with a clear understanding of purpose and role.  Because this may not be the best way for a child with autism to learn, it should also not be overly relied upon in the classroom as the main method of teaching and learning.

Strapline across film  After School Clubs

After School Clubs can be run by a range of different bodies, for example the PTA, Parent Council, Active Schools, a private provider or the School itself.  The School should ensure these bodies are mindful of the school’s obligations under the Equality Act.  Those running clubs should seek information regarding any disabilities of pupils participating and endeavour to make appropriate reasonable adjustments.  Sometimes a discussion with parents or guardians might be appropriate to find out more about what can be done.  A reasonable adjustment may be access to a quiet space, recruitment of trained staff, use of volunteer helpers or adjustment to the structure of the after-school club programme.  The reasonable adjustment should not be such that other pupils are put at a disadvantage.  
There are a variety of ways in which the cost of a reasonable adjustment may be covered but it should not be borne by the parent of the disabled child. 

(Length 6.39) 

Further information and resources

What are additional support needs? | Additional support | Parent Zone (

Review of additional support for learning implementation: report – (

Further information and professional learning on Inclusion, Equality and Wellbeing is available in the Professional Development section. 

Further information is available in the sections ‘Understanding Autism’ and ‘Supporting Learners and their Families’.

Further information and professional learning on Inclusion, Equality and Wellbeing is available in the Professional Development section.