The Wrong End Of The Spectrum! By Tanya Trafford

Way back in 2014, the way children and young people in England with SEN were supported changed with the introduction of education health and care (EHC) plans. These documents,  were binding on local authorities, and detailed a child or young person’s SEN condition and the provision that they need. For example: a special school placement and full time one-to-one support to Speech and Language Therapy and/or particular equipment being made available. However, the system is flawed and very biased towards children who are not only less able, but less intelligent too.

Local authorities are mandated to decide if a child has needs to be assessed for an EHC within 12 weeks of receiving a referral. The EHC can only be written based on this assessment, however there is a worrying trend with local authorities refusing to assess young people with high functioning autism (HFA) if they are of average or above intellect. In addition, schools are often failing to support parents who are trying to get an ECH for their child as it requires so much additional work for the school too.

The schools and local authority seem to believe that it is more important, to push and support a child who is achieving Grade 2s until they get Grade 4s than helping child who is capable of be getting Grade 7s but only achieving Grade 5s – why? The Grade 2 to Grade 4 child is being supported towards a better life – a laudable ambition. So why would they look at the child with a potential for getting a Grade 7 but achieving 4-5 child and denying them the future they deserve; and that is tantamount to wilful neglect.  Alas it is very, very common.

When discussing Autism it is best to be clear what it is – life long neurodevelopmental disorder which affects how people communicate and interact with the world. It is typified by challenges in the following areas:

  • Social communication and social interaction
  • Rigid thinking and perception (black and white / logical and concrete fact)
  • Repetitive and restrictive behaviour
  • Over/under sensitivity to sound, taste, light, texture, touch
  • Obsessive focus on interests and hobbies
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Melt-downs, shutdowns and tantrums.

Look at that list again. As you can see, Autism is not associated with intelligence. Clearly, all children and young people with ASD need additional help navigating a path through academic life – support the child is unlikely to get without an ECHP, however the brighter ones are not getting it.  This is not hearsay, this is fact.

Child A’s story.

Child A was a bright young boy who struggled in primary school and was often ferociously bullied.  His teachers claimed that he was just a bit shy and too obsessed with planes. After weeks and months of him coming home in tears and hiding under the kitchen table,  not being invited on a single play date or to a single birthday party, the parents requested he saw an Educational Psychologist who confirmed that he was exceptionally bright 98th percentile bright. 

 The school now simply wrote him off as “quirky.”  He could not understand why other children were not interested in being his friend.  He felt sad and isolated much of the time.  In order to get some form of recognition, he became increasingly angry and unhappy and began being labelled as “naughty”.  In Year 4 he saw a second Cognitive Behavioural Therapist who observed him in class and supported him with 1:1 therapy.  He was placed on the CAMHS pathway for ASD in Year 5.

The parents sort support and requested an EHCP – it was refused.   In year 7 he received his formal diagnosis.  Again the LA refused to give him an EHCP. His Secondary school SENCO said that there “was no point him applying for an EHCP” as he was passing his exams and didn’t need help.  

 Nobody in the school would address and support his ASD. yet still the LA said “No” because the SENCO did not see the need as he was getting As and Bs. Only the PE department seemed concerned as he was cutting his arms and legs every day in school and it looked “worrying” for other children to see as he changed for PE. Child A came home sobbing and refusing to eat.

 After the 3rd refusal for an EHCP, their son was rushed to hospital having tried to kill himself for the 5th time while in school. The family decided to employ an education lawyer after.  Finally the LA gave him an EHCP.   Child A is now in a Special School and thriving, although psychologically scared, still self-harming and suffers from panic attacks.  He needs to see a counsellor each week and is supported by social skills groups to help with his social understanding.  In Year 8, at the age of 13, Child A made his first friend.

This story, while sad, is not unusual. Increasingly, local authorities are refusing to make an EHC needs assessment for children and young people with HFA.

In addition, as with this case, many parents are being told by their child’s school that there is “no point” in applying for an EHC needs assessment because their child is “not bad enough”.

The reasons being given are:

  • the child or young person is making some academic progress
  • the local authority requires that a child or young person is performing below a particular academic level before it will make an EHC needs assessment
  • the child or young person has to be below a certain IQ before it will make an EHC needs assessment
  • there needs to be clear evidence that the child or young person needs more than £6,000 worth of support before the local authority will make an EHC needs assessment.

While the issue of academic progress can be considered by local authorities, it is not supposed to be the determinative issue – it is an Education and Health Care plan.

The other bullet points do not feature in the law at all and should not be used as an excuse to deny support.

SENCOs failing to support EHC Process

In the past few years, the level of investigative paperwork and progress tracking information placed on schools has grown exponentially.  As a result, unless a child is severely disabled and needs a full time 1:1, asking a SENCO to support an ECHP application is like asking Turkey’s to vote for Christmas, they simply won’t do it.

A study led by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen of primary school children in Cambridge found that for every three children who have been diagnosed with autism there are two more who have the condition. If this were reflected across all English primary schools could mean that 300,000 children have not yet been identified. Professor Baron-Cohen also commented that although his study focused on ASD, “a statistically significant” number of co-morbid conditions were potentially being missed or masked by their ASD, the significant being ADHD. So why are SENCOs and healthcare professionals not highlighting this?

A child who has an EHCP has an enhanced level of need and support which needs to be managed and accounted for. The tiny extra sums given to schools to help cover these costs seem inconsequential when compared to the paperwork required. In most secondary schools there is one SENCO and a couple of assistants for over 1500 children.

While only approximately 10% have SEN, that is still 150 young people for whom they are responsible. Those with ECH plans “create” even more work for the stretched SENCO system.

Child B’s Story

When you meet Child B, you meet a bright and chatty child which an extraordinary vocab and an interesting view on the world.  His report states that achieved 110+ across the board in his SATs and his Cognitive Ability Test D scores were SS 124. So the impression of being bright is being backed up by his scores. 

When you dig a little deeper you will discover that he has ASD, so while he is fine working one to one with an adult, he just can’t seem to cope in a classroom.  Added to which he has very obvious ADHD. He is fidgeting and squirming in his seat, jumping from topic to topic like an academic flee.

Yet all the above success and glory child B should be feeling seemed to be in the past – he is on his 3rd school in 3 years and failing again. Currently he barely scraping a D grade in most subjects. His parents site mental health issues and self-harm alongside his diagnosis. He is not happy at school and believes he is constantly bullied by pupils and teachers who are always telling him off and he is being constantly asked to pay attention in class.  He has been denied an EHCP 3 times as his EP reports state and IQ in the 95th percentile and historic good grades. He is not naughty, he is charming but he needs help. Child B has to completely fail to the point of emotional and academic collapse before he would be deemed worthy of support.

Child B suffered an emotional collapsed and became a school refuser.  Finally he was given an EHCP. He is now in a special school in an ASD class. He is in Year 9, having  already passed his Foundation GCSE in Maths last year, he is now trying for his Higher GCSE in maths.  He is smiling again.

What should the local authority consider?

The law requires that a local authority should make an EHC needs assessment if:

  • the child or young person has or may have SEN
  • it may be necessary for special educational provision to be made for the child or young person in accordance with an EHC plan.

HFA is almost certainly an SEN. The question therefore is whether the particular child may need an EHC plan. This is a subjective question. The reasons that I am seeing are blanket policies, meaning local authorities are not considering applications for an EHC needs assessment properly so what type of support could they need?

Potential ASD treatments include:

  • Speech and language therapy.  Speech therapy can help with social communication – a key component of ASD challenges.
  • Occupational therapy. Some people with ASD have trouble with motor skills. This can make things like jumping, walking, or running difficult.  Occupational therapy can help you learn how to use your hands, legs, or other body parts more efficiently. This can make daily tasks and working easier.
  • Sensory training. People with ASD are often sensitive to sounds, lights, and touch. Sensory training helps people become more comfortable with sensory input.
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy / Applied behavioural analysis. This is a technique that encourages positive behaviours. Making links in understanding and actions. There are several types of applied behavioural analysis, but most use a reward system.
  • Safe spaces – This is simply identifying a safe space to go and a system of support for when the young person becomes dysregulated.
  • 1 to 1 support – there are a number or reasons why someone with an IQ as high as Child A’s may need a Learning Support Assistant.  Obviously, they are academically able, however there may be a wide variety of sensory issue or auditory issues which need support.  This clip clearly shows why some ASD struggle when a teacher speaks too fast. (YouTube:.  They may be very bright but need time to process what they hear.


The ECHP System is failing bright children with HFA. They take into account and add more value to the opinion of the School SENCO, who may only see the child for 30 mins a couple of times per term, but ignore the child and their family who are struggling with the fall out. So long as the child will scrape a pass, everyone should be happy – right?.

The only relevant consideration for an EHC needs assessment is whether the child or young person has SEN and may need an EHC plan. There is no reference in the law to funding, IQ levels or comparative academic achievement.

Children and young people with HFA are likely to have SEN. All children with HFA will demonstrate social interaction difficulties, social communication difficulties and rigid thinking.

If your local authority refuses to make an EHC needs assessment purely on the basis of academic achievement, that is failing to address the law properly. Such a refusal may well be unlawful and you should think carefully about challenging the decision.  Alas this means months without support while taking this to tribunal and fight over and over again against a system which fundamentally can’t afford to help everyone, so ignores the more able.


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