Ask, Accept, Develop – a progressive approach to education for autistic children and young people

By Dr. Freya Spicer-White

Dr. Freya Spicer-White, Head of Autism and Neurodiversity Practice, shares the organisation’s new Autism Strategy – ‘Ask, Accept, Develop’

An autistic young person can face many challenges during the typical school day. Among the most common of these are: learning unaligned with their skills and interests, overwhelming sensory environments, the navigation of social interactions and the potential for unpredictable changes to the school routine.

Autistic students can be high achievers in the subjects that they enjoy, however they may struggle to focus on those subjects that do not ignite their interest and passion, so accessing the curriculum can prove challenging. School can be a place where they often feel forced to engage in topics or activities that do not interest them, or in the worst case, upset them.

School corridors covered in posters and decorations, dining halls filled with overpowering food related smells and playgrounds teeming with loud and noisy peers, all contribute to an inhospitable sensory environment for many autistic young people.

The social aspects of life can also make school a confusing and sometimes daunting place which impacts their wellbeing and self-esteem. Navigating new social groups and existing friendships can be tricky for autistic young people, and situations such as these can lead to frequent misunderstandings or student’s spending the day ‘camouflaging’ and masking their neurodiversity.

The unavoidable last minute changes to the timetable or a substitute teacher can also be distressing. The school day can be exhausting, frustrating and stressful and often makes learning feel impossible.

How can these challenges be addressed?

Options Autism has recently launched an innovative new Autism Strategy. The main objective is to continually progress in our approach to education provision in an environment conducive to the strengths and needs of autistic young people within our schools.

The strategy emphasises the importance of genuine engagement and empathic relationships to increase every individual’s experiences of meaningful achievements and positive emotions. It takes inspiration from optimistic person-centred approaches and psychological models, such as Positive Behaviour Support (PBS), the Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment (PERMA) model of wellbeing (Seligman), Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy (PACE) (Hughes) combined with the 5 Good Communication Standards from the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.  

It has been created and refined, through a review of current autism literature and consultation from the Lived Experience Expert Panel, made up of autistic adults and parents of autistic young people, a clinical multi-disciplinary (Speech and Language, Occupational Therapy and Psychology) team and the OFG Advisory Board.

The foundations of the strategy are three core principles: Ask, Accept and Develop.


First and foremost, we want to hear the voices of everyone under our care. Whenever possible, we ‘ask’ and consult the autistic children and young people about their choices and preferences. This includes contributing meaningful input into their own care and education plans, at an appropriate level for their cognitive ability.

By listening to their perspectives we can treat them as unique individuals, each with their own likes, dislikes, wants and needs. For example, finding ways to adapt the school environment to meet their sensory needs, or being more supportive when there are unavoidable changes in routine.


Our strategy does not seek to ‘cure’ or ‘treat’ autism, nor does it promote approaches and interventions that attempt to make an individual behave more neurotypically, or one that is punitive in any way.

We accept and celebrate autism and promote the neurodiversity of our children and young people. Our staff have an intellectual, practical and cultural understanding of autism and recognise the strengths and needs associated with an autism diagnosis, whilst also appreciating each individual’s own personal strengths and needs.

The focus of ‘Accept’ is to create academic and pastoral experiences and school environments and communication systems, which meet the needs of each autistic individual and enables them to thrive. For example, if a young person has a passion for Marvel superheroes, their curriculum can be tailored around this interest, or if a young person dislikes drama, we can accept this is part of their autism and they can choose not to take part.


We enable and empower individuals to increase their independence and flourish. Individual plans are derived from personal goals and informed by their family’s views, to improve quality of life and wellbeing. Staff teach and scaffold the development of specific new skills, abilities and strategies for each of the autistic children and young people in our services.

’Develop’ creates a constant drive to use innovative ways to support our young autistic learners, ranging from forest school sessions to using robots to practice social interactions.

We strive to ensure that all the children and young people we educate in our schools are nurtured, their physical and mental health is prioritised, and they are given every opportunity to grow and develop, leading to outcomes that match their strengths and abilities.

We want all our children and young people to reach their optimum level of academic achievement, wellbeing and recognised quality of life outcomes.