Autism support in the early years sector

A modular training programme for professionals in all early years settings

The AET early years programme offers training and resources for professionals working in various early years settings for children up to 5 years. The AET early years programme will form an essential part of your Continuing Professional Development.

The Autism Education Trust (AET) offers face-to-face training programmes and practical resources for practitioners working in early years settings. The AET training programme is delivered by local trainers with experience in the field of autism education and understanding of the local context.

Over 1 in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and the number of children receiving an autism diagnosis is rising. The AET early years programme can play a key role in helping your setting to support autistic children, meet your wider responsibilities and will form an essential part of your Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

A child on the autism spectrum has a different way of seeing and interpreting the world. This inevitably has an impact on the way they learn and interact. It’s useful for early years practitioners to consider three main areas.

From the perspective of the young child on the autism spectrum:

People are perplexing
Most typically, developing children have, by the age of four, become aware that other people have thoughts and feelings that may be different from their own. The young child on the autism spectrum may never realise this. This presents them with huge difficulties in ‘reading’ people. If you can’t make sense of people and find them unpredictable, this can be terrifying – leading to avoidance of social situations.

For example: Bertie used to love listening to music. When the music stopped, he just stood beside the CD player wailing. He didn’t realise that he had to go and ask Mum to change the CD.

The known is comforting, the unknown is terrifying
Young children with autism find it difficult to make connections, leading to problems in generalising skills learnt in one situation to another context. If connections aren’t obvious, everything seems new and frightening – no wonder they have a preference for the familiar.

For example: Ella, who’d been attending nursery for over a year, arrived one day and became inconsolably distressed. It took some time before staff realised that Ella’s upset was because they’d repositioned some items of furniture. Although a minor change as far as the other children were concerned, it had rendered the nursery unrecognisable to Ella – hence her terror.

This is my focus; I don’t know that your focus is different
When working with very young children, two commonly used strategies are to gain joint attention and to get the child to imitate. The young child on the autism spectrum often has an idiosyncratic focus of attention and will have no idea what you want them to look at – let alone be able to imitate. This is the case even when the child appears to be paying attention.

For example: Izzy was sitting amongst a group of children at storytime, looking towards the book. When asked, she had no idea what the story had been about, but she knew how many telegraph poles she’d seen in the pictures.

How can we help?

Early years practitioners are likely to be just one of a number of agencies involved in helping the child and supporting their family. It is in the child’s best interests if all these practitioners receive appropriate training to develop skills, knowledge and understanding and work closely together.

Autism and Early Years training testimonial:

The training is effective in providing strategies for supporting pupils as well as extending awareness of the wide range of needs of pupils with autism. As a whole, it is a complete package which appeals to all staff; from those new to working with children with autism to those who are in senior leader posts.

The training reinforced for me the need to make support for pupils with autism a whole school issue, developing a shared awareness and understanding and developing a provision which is led by senior staff and embedded in the school’s inclusive ethos.

As a result of the training staff are less anxious about the support they offer to pupils with autism. It has increased confidence as well as knowledge and understanding, and they know that they have strategies that will enable them to be effective. Their anxiety has been replaced by enjoyment and a real passion for what they do.

Nursery Head Teacher

Training offers to support skills development and understanding:

Making Sense of Autism (virtual event):   

Basic awareness training for all those engaging with children in early years settings. This includes teaching and support staff, office and ancillary staff, caterers, caretakers, transport staff and governors.

The training will support participants in:

  • understanding the four key areas of developmental difference experienced by autistic children
    building and promoting positive relationships
  • the importance of understanding the individual and to build upon his/her strengths
  • supporting children in accessing teaching and learning


  • Wednesday 12 May 3.30pm – 5.00pm
  • Thurs 8 July 9.30pm – 11.00am

Trainer: Kevin Jones

Good Autism Practice (virtual event):

A solid understanding of autism combined with practical strategies and resources for all practitioners working directly with autistic children in early years settings.

The training will support participants in:

  • understanding the key areas of developmental difference experienced by autistic children
  • understanding the individual and how to profile their strengths and developmental needs
  • understanding the importance of building positive relationships with and around the child
  • understanding how to adapt the curriculum to meet the needs of the individual
  • understanding how to make the environment more accessible to autistic children
  • developing practical strategies and techniques in promoting effective teaching and learning


  • Thursday 20th and Friday 21st May 9.00am – 12.30 pm

Trainer: Kevin Jones

Book your place here.

Extending and Enhancing Good Autism Practice:

Building on good autism practice to support a deeper understanding of autism and to extend skills in promoting positive child experience, progress and outcomes.

The training will support participants in:

  • exploring the principal cognitive theories of autism and their implications for teaching and learning
  • extending knowledge, skills and strategies in supporting effective teaching and learning
  • reflecting on their practice and sharing good practice across their setting


  • Wednesday 16th June 9.00am – 12.30pm

Trainer: Kevin Jones


Additional links:

Babcock LDP Transition guidance: Babcock LDP – Transition – Early Years to Primary to Secondary to Post-16

C&I Team page: Babcock LDP – Communication and Interaction

LDP shop (C&I page): Communication and Interaction | Babcock LDP

C&I CV19 resource page: Babcock LDP – COVID-19 resources from the communication and interaction team

C&I 1 min Guides: Babcock LDP – One Minute Guides

AET Autism resource suite:


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