- 27 May 2021
School have to follow the government’s SEND handbook. This is called the SEND Code of Practice. This Code of Practice outlines the four categories of SEND and what each category includes.
The category “Communication and Interaction” includes autism.
The government’s category “Physical / Sensory Needs” includes three specific sensory needs:
• Visual impairment – Loss of some or all of their sight;
• Hearing impairment – Loss of some or all of their hearing;
• Multisensory impairment – Loss of some or all of both hearing and sight.
Each of these sensory needs refers to the loss of sight and/or hearing.
Autistic children can also have sensory needs. They have not lost the use of their senses. However, they can become distressed by certain lights, sounds, tastes, smells or touch. They can also have difficulty with balance or how close they are to things.
Because the autistic child doesn’t have a loss of sight/hearing, then schools might reasonably say “We can’t put a prime need of sensory.”
Schools can still provide support for the sensory needs of autistic children even if they record sensory needs as part of the child’s autism/communication and interaction needs.
So, while school might not put a child’s sensory needs into the sensory needs category, it shouldn’t make a difference to the support that the pupil receives.
Of course, a small number of autistic children do have a prime or secondary need of sensory impairment anyway, but this is because they also have sight loss, hearing loss or both.
On the other hand...
The Code of Practice says that co-production is important. Co-production is working together with parents, carers and families to make SEND policies and procedures work for everyone. That could include how we interpret needs for our school SEND register.
It means that some schools might still say that autism is the prime need, but add a secondary need of sensory if that’s what co-production asks for.
However, If the sensory need is as a result of autism, it’s likely autism will remain the prime need.
EHCPs, Local Authorities and sensory needs of autism
The above advice is for children who are at the SEND support level.
If a child has an EHCP, the above advice won’t apply. That’s because EHCPs are legal documents and local authorities have much less power over how they can categorise needs within the EHCP.
The LA will probably say “Sorry. No. We can’t add a prime or secondary need as sensory.” They will be right on this point.
So, don’t be surprised if your child’s sensory needs are listed under “Communication and Interaction” in their EHCP.
- 27 May 2021
But school may or may not agree.
If this matters to you as a parent/carer, feel free to ask and see what the answer is. If school say “Yes” great.
If school say “No,” there may be a valid reason.
See long answer for more detail.