What Are Autism Spectrum Disorders? Autism and ADHD Explained

Autism spectrum disorders affect around 700,000 people in the UK, meaning that over 2.8 million people have a family member on the autism spectrum. It’s a lifelong condition that affects how people interact with others, and it can be mild or serious depending on where the person sits on the spectrum.

For families with an autistic child, everyday life can be a real challenge. Autism affects how children see, hear and feel the world around them, and different people will need different support depending on how the condition affects them.

Because autism is a spectrum condition, every child experiences it differently – and this can make it challenging for those who care for them. Foster carers can sometimes find it difficult to offer the right kind of support to autistic children in their care due to their different needs.

But, small changes and a better understanding of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can make a big difference for foster carers supporting children with autism. That’s why we’ve put together this guide on ASD – giving foster carers the help and information they need to provide the right kind of support to an autistic child in their care.

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What is Autism and How Is It Defined?

Autism spectrum disorder is defined as a developmental condition that affects how people view the world around them. It’s a lifelong condition that children have from birth, and, because it’s not an illness or disease, it can’t be cured.

Autism is very common, with 1 in 100 people on the autistic spectrum. Signs and symptoms of the condition vary from person to person, which is why an early diagnosis is so important for children with ASD.

For many autistic children, the condition causes the most difficulty when they’re interacting with other people. Everyday interactions can be overwhelming, and they can struggle to build a rapport with those around them – even their closest friends and family.

Diagnosing ASD early is important to ensure children get the developmental support they need from a young age. However, because it’s not a physical condition, autism can be very difficult to spot, and many people often mistake the signs for behaviours that a child will grow out of.

Diagnosing autism is very complicated, requiring many tests to define where the child sits on the spectrum. Depending on the outcome, autism specialists will suggest strategies to help the child live life to the fullest.

What Are the Most Common Signs of ASD in Children?

While children exhibit ASD in many different ways, most autistic people share common behavioural traits. As a foster carer, understanding these traits could help you identify autistic behaviours in your child.

Here, we look at the five behavioural traits which children with autism may exhibit.

Social Communication

Autistic children can find it difficult to interpret both verbal and non-verbal communication, such as tone of voice, hand gestures, facial expressions, humour and emotions. They may also struggle to communicate verbally or non-verbally. For this reason, autism specialists often suggest sign language or visual symbols as a way of communicating clearly with very young autistic children.

Social Interaction

Given the communication problems touched on above, many autistic children struggle to interact with others. They can easily misinterpret another person’s feelings, meaning or intentions, and can appear insensitive. They may seek time alone and become ‘overloaded’ by social situations, or may talk at length about their own interests, dismissing customary forms of conversation and interaction.

Repetitive Behaviour and Routines

Because autistic children can find new situations stressful and overwhelming, they sometimes enjoy a set daily routine. This helps them avoid unpredictable scenarios in which they can become confused and anxious. Even simple things like requesting the exact same breakfast every morning could indicate autistic traits.

Highly-Focused Interests

Many autistic children develop highly-focused interests from a young age – it could be music, drawing, animals, or a particular colour. Often, the interest may be unusual, and this can cause problems at school or make it difficult for them to make friends. As with repetitive behaviour, children often become fixated on a particular subject because that’s what makes them the happiest and most comfortable.

Over or Under Sensitive

Autistic children may experience sensory sensitivity, in which they grow over or under-sensitive to taste, touch, sounds, light, colour or pain. The most common type of over-sensitivity is sound, in which quiet background noises become overwhelming and difficult to block out. Whatever they become sensitive too, it’s important to avoid this where possible as continued exposure can cause anxiety or, in some cases, physical pain.

Remember, children exhibit autistic traits in many different ways, so it’s important to make a note of any behaviour you find unconventional and seek a professional diagnosis if you are concerned.

Support Strategies for Foster Carers, Parents and Guardians

Caring for a child with autism can be challenging. There are, however, several recognised strategies that can help you provide the right help and support to your child – and we’ve touched on a couple of these below.


SPELL is the National Autistic Society’s framework for responding positively to children on the autism spectrum. It stands for Structure, Positive approaches and expectations, Empathy, Low arousal, and Links. Basically, SPELL emphasises the need to change our approach to autism, so that we can provide the right support, help, communication and interaction to everyone on the autism spectrum – whether they have ADHD or Asperger syndrome.


Like SPELL, TEACCH is recognised by the National Autistic Society as one of the most positive strategies parents and carers can use when interacting with an autistic child. TEACCH stands for Teaching, Expanding, Appreciating, Collaborating, and Holistic, and it prioritises building understanding around the ‘culture of autism’ and the use of visual structures to aid development, learning and communication.

Social Stories

One of the newest coping strategies recommended by the National Autistic Society, Social Stories is a series of visual stories, created by Carol Gray, which aim to help autistic children understand social situations through visual learning. Since they were released in 1991, Social Stories have proved extremely helpful in developing greater social understanding for autistic people, and families are encouraged to create their own comic strips and storyboards to help children develop their social skills.

Helpful Resources

There are lots of resources available online offering advice on how to provide help and support to children with autism. Here, we list our recommended resources for foster families:

  • National Autistic Society – The UK’s primary autism charity, offering a broad range of information and advice, as well as a confidential helpline.
  • Resources for Autism – A registered charity which aims to provide practical services for children and young people with autism.
  • Child Autism UK – The UK’s largest dedicated charity for children with autism, offering a range of support guides and advice for children and their families.
  • NHS autism support groups hub – The NHS’s autism support hub, which can help families find support groups and services in their local area.

At Alliance Foster Care, we provide complete training and support to all our foster carers, so they can provide an effective and supportive home for children with autism.

For more information on how to foster with us, register your interest here or call us today on 00808 1680 180 .

Meet Ceri

Hi, I’m Ceri.

Me and my husband Michael have been Foster Carers for Alliance since 2014.

We’re also adoptive parents and knew that experience would be something we could use and build on as carers.

Before fostering, I was a deputy payroll manager and Michael runs his own property business — so it was a huge jump to make.

But we’re so glad we did.

We’re currently caring for two girls aged 10 and 14 and in the last four years we’ve fostered three children and offered respite to a further ten.

Each one had their own unique issues and we’ve had to adapt as parents — what works with one youngster doesn’t necessarily work with another!

With teens for example — it’s not just raging hormones, there’s also the minefield of social media, school and friendships.

It’s a challenge we were prepared to take on — and one that’s really paid off for us as the girls have settled into our family well.

Changing lives

The support from Alliance has been invaluable throughout — especially at challenging times.

It’s more than just caring for the children — they’ve been there for the various meetings we’ve had to attend, offering advice and guidance where necessary.

And the right training is also essential to help you manage the day-to-day challenges of fostering — Alliance’s covers a wide range of subjects.

Attending these courses and the support of our supervising social worker helps us to care for our children in so many ways.

So, from sitting in an office four years ago to today, my life couldn’t be more different.

Doing the school run, dealing with difficult teenage issues, meeting with various specialist professionals, ongoing training — the list is endless.

But would I go back to the old days?

Not in a million years — I love my job and I’m very proud to tell anyone who asks:

I am a foster carer.

Introduction into Attachment and Trauma Training

Our prospective carers attend the two-day ‘Skills to Foster’ training course, to introduce them to Alliance and provide the primary skills required for the day-to-day role.

Foster carers also need to develop a sound understanding of the impact that trauma can have on the behaviour of children in their care and should gain a sense of how attachment is seen from the perspective of a child.

The ‘Introduction into Attachment and Trauma’ training course, delivered by Claire Harrison Breed, has been designed to achieve these aims.

It gives initial insights into coping strategies many looked-after youngsters put in place to survive trauma they may have experienced, before being in care.

Sharing experience

In November, Claire’s course was attended by a group of existing carers and by some who were being assessed to join them.

It was a welcome opportunity for a mix of different people to share their varied fostering experience, from ‘just starting’ to ‘over a decade’.

And the session was also valuable in providing potential strategies for parenting children that have experienced trauma and attachment.

Of course, what may work with some children won’t work with others — but most carers agree that adaptability is an essential part of fostering.

The course was engaging, informative and enhanced the knowledge of the existing carers as well as the understanding of the newer members of the team.

And everyone who attended left eager to build on their experience, resolving to take advantage of the further training days available.

Open to all carers, these further sessions cover in more depth the individual areas introduced — one day dedicated to trauma, the other to attachment.

Alliance Foster Care’s Partnership with Service Six

Service Six is a leading community charity, offering therapeutic support to many children, young people, adults and families throughout the Northamptonshire area.

We joined forces with them in 2017, to collaborate in sharing knowledge and resources.

This now means Service Six can use our onsite training suite, while Alliance staff and carers gain access to training courses delivered to (and by) Service Six staff.

Building on this relationship, we’ve introduced the TARGET project developed by Service Six, to benefit the children in our care.

The project was created to challenge increasing dangers to children and young people online, a priority concern for all of us.

The TARGET acronym stands for:





Exploitation &


— of children and young people online.

Specialist relevant training on project content is now delivered to our team members and carers by Service Six staff.

A shared ethos

Claudia Slabon, Service Six chief executive has emphasised the importance of communicating online safety via multiple channels.

The messages of TARGET can be shared through the work of schools, parents or guardians but should always retain relevance for younger people.

Service Six’s expertise and experience in ensuring these important communications remain engaging is invaluable.

Claudia highlighted the benefits of the collaboration between Alliance and Service Six, commenting:

‘It works so well because we share the same ethos and there’s always a line of communication between both organisations.

‘This joined-up way of working allows team members from both sides to enhance the work of each other, creating the best outcome for the young person involved.’

In our first year of partnership, the benefits have been huge — not just for our foster carers but also for the young people they support.

Psychotherapist Support at Alliance Foster Care

Hi, I’m Claire.

I’m a psychotherapist and founder of the psychotherapeutic services provision at Broad Horizons. My background includes working as a social worker as well as a university lecturer in counseling and psychotherapy and more recently I have been providing specialist training for carers at Alliance Foster Care.

In addition, I work directly with children and young people and provide one-to-one consultations with Alliance foster carers with the aim of providing them with the understanding and strategies required to manage the day to day challenges that fostering may bring.

September’s ‘Go Away, I love You’ course provides insights into some of the latest research and interventions in attachment theory and trauma. Attendees gain an understanding of new practical approaches to supporting children and young people, through exploring these subjects ‘through the eyes of the child’.

Nurturing carers

I’ve always valued the child-centred ethos of Alliance and how therapeutic principals underpin the team and in turn foster carers approach to fostering.

Both myself and Alliance look at the holistic needs of every child and promote the most appropriate services to support them.

The foster carers do an amazing job, and a big part of what I do is helping foster carers prioritize their own wellbeing, reminding them that they can look after children better if they also look after themselves.

Some children will experience multiple placements, which may have a lifelong effect on their wellbeing — we recognise the importance of stability in addressing this. With training and support, we help nurture carers through challenging times which improves the stability of placement experiences for our young people.

Alliance’s Summer Of Fun

In summer we held a series of new weekly clubs for young people, to give chances to learn new skills and encourage some healthy competition.

Designed and led by our support workers, Nicola and Will, the popular August events included:

Crafty fashion day


Create a brand-new outfit using old clothes and your imagination — that’s the challenge the young people were set.

From adding pockets and embellishments to dresses, to creating bags and accessories — the creativity displayed was impressive.

And so was the way everyone worked, both individually and in groups, thinking outside the box with amazing results.

Of course there had to be a fashion show, where the creations were shared on the day with staff and foster carers.

Obstacle challenge


An exercise in teamwork, agility, balance and strength — this event proved popular but was tricky in places.

Our young people had to work together in groups to support each other through a series of obstacles.

A definite favourite was the slip-n-slide, which certainly lived up to its name with many of the children.

Sports day


A favourite of the year for staff, carers and young people, this event featured both traditional and more unusual challenges.

With contests including sponge volleyball, crab walking, sack races, welly throwing and horse-racing, teamwork was important.

Everyone worked well together, encouraging their fellow competitors — and just a few points separated the teams going into the final event.

Prizes awarded included certificates for the final winners, plus recognition of the most stylish and most entertaining team.

Pamper day


The second time we’d done this — and just as much fun as the last one for everyone who came along.

As well as having their hair and makeup done, plus nails painted and decorated, guests had the chance to make their own face masks.

We also welcomed a henna artist whose beautiful designs on people’s hands proved very popular with the group.

August Summer fete

The 11th of August marked an exciting first for Alliance — our very own Summer Fete, planned and organised by the team.

A day of glorious sunshine saw young people having fun together and enjoying a wide range of activities.

There was a coconut shy, stocks, face painting and bouncy castle, plus most popular — the ‘Wickidizer’ — a giant inflatable obstacle course.

A selection of barbecue favourites went down well but everyone left room to round off the day with delicious ice-cream with sauce and sprinkles.

Kirsty’s First Year At Alliance

Hi, I’m Kirsty.

I’ve been part of the Alliance team since July 2017, joining after nine months of travelling the world.

Back in 2012, I achieved an MA in Social Work from the Uni of Leicester and joined the Older Persons Team at Central Bedfordshire Council.

But my true passion was working with children, which led me to move to Northamptonshire County Council’s Disabled Children’s Team.

Following this, I boosted my knowledge of child protection procedures and childcare law in a safeguarding and care planning team, before taking time off for my trip.

When I returned and entered the world of fostering, I received the warmest welcome from my new colleagues at Alliance.

Enjoyable and Rewarding

Supporting foster carers in providing good outcomes for the children they look after is enjoyable and rewarding.

I work alongside carers over a widespread area but am most frequently in Corby, where I help my colleague Diane to run the carer’s support group.

A personal highlight in the last year has been the number of wonderful events meticulously organised by our fantastic support workers.

Seeing the children and young people have fun and make friends is only matched by the chance for our hardworking foster carers to let hair down too.

Varied from Day to Day

Fostering was a new area of social work to me but I learned quickly that the skills a SSW needs are quite varied from day-to-day.

To help ensure quality foster care is delivered, I promote the development of good practice while monitoring our output against required national standards.

And goal setting, as well as gathering feedback from relevant sources is also essential to aid the development of foster carers.

We always encourage our looked after children and young people to be the best they can — and achieving the best outcomes for them is what motivates me.

Observing or hearing about someone make a breakthrough or excel at a challenging task is an unrivalled feeling.

And knowing I’ve been a part of their journey — from difficulty to a safe and happy home environment — is the biggest reward of all.


In June, SSW Diane introduced our carers to the wonders of ‘Theraplay’, an attachment based therapy which supports relationships through play.

Using the natural patterns of healthy, playful interaction between children and their parent or caregiver, it’s a personal, physical and fun form of therapy and filmed Theraplay sessions can be used for reflective learning.

Theraplay builds attachments, boosts self-esteem and increases trust, leading to happier engagements.

These interactions focus on four essential qualities found in successful parent-child relationships:


To help a child trust and feel safe around them, the adult learns to give straightforward guidance and directions, keeping things clearer for the youngster.


Clear guidance enables the adult to interpret the child’s needs and respond with confidence, resulting in the sharing of joyful ‘here and now’ moments.


The adult/child relationship is strengthened through healthy touch and creative experiences where comfort is sought and loving care is given.


Equipping the adult to push the child with a ‘can do’ attitude, understanding their limitations — resulting in a sense of achievement and courage to try new things.

Theraplay training

By increasing these connections between children and their caregivers, Theraplay sessions have proved popular and successful.

We’re collaborating with local services to provide training on how it can help carers increase their attachment to the young people in their care.

Theraplay training aids staff in understanding both the attachment needs of young people and how to share this knowledge with carers.

This simple but effective approach is fun and can transform relationships — with different options available.

Fostering Changes, A Year On

Hi, I’m Tia.

I’ve been an Alliance foster carer since January 2014.

I knew it was my calling in life, having come from a fostering family myself, then later becoming a fostering support for my parents at the age of 18.

It’s been almost five years since I joined the agency and the Alliance team has become my extended family.

They’ve always put my wellbeing first and given me all the support I need, throughout all of my placements.

Currently I’m caring for two boys alongside my own two sons, which can at times be difficult but immensely rewarding.

Empowered and confident

Last year I enrolled on the ‘Fostering Changes’ course, to learn coping strategies or solutions to some of the challenges we were facing as a foster family.

But I actually found the practical skills I acquired had wider reaching benefits that helped in several areas of our lives.

I now feel empowered to deal with situations that had previously often left me feeling lost and have also refreshed my knowledge of skills I already had.

After attending Fostering Changes, my confidence has soared and helped me care for both the foster children and my birth children better.

All this means we live in a happy, harmonious home.

Strong friendships

It’s not all been plain sailing but I’m better equipped for any setbacks — and a year on, we still have some of the objectives from the course on display at home.

We follow these but also update and change them as needed to reflect the children’s emotional and physical progress.

I’m happy that I’ve made lasting relationships with other carers that I met on the course, who face similar challenges and concerns to me.

These have become strong friendships — as a group we communicate every day, sharing problems and celebrating our individual or group achievements.

And later this year we’re getting together for some well-deserved rest, recuperation and a little indulgence on a spa break.

The Fostering Changes course has been immensely valuable for me but the individual rewards can depend on what you’re looking to achieve.

Keep an open mind and you’ll learn new skills and information that’ll enhance your parenting style, benefitting any looked-after and birth children in your home.

But for me, the most important thing has been the solidarity and friendship I’ve found in my new ‘family’ of course attendees.

I’d encourage any carer to sign up for Fostering Changes — if you’re like me, the outcomes could be life changing.

Parent and Child Training

In April, our carers joined team manager Nicky, who delivered a specialist Parent and Child Training Course.

It was created to prepare foster carers to support a parent — usually a mother, occasionally a father or both — and their baby or young child.

Typically, these placements are decided by the court and last for around three months — although this can be longer.

And by giving parents a chance to show they can look after their little one — they can mean the difference between a child going into care or not.

Foster carers are vital during the assessment process, recording info which is relied on by social workers, local authorities and sometimes in court.

But beyond paperwork, meeting attendance and regular log-keeping, the carer’s role is hugely important from a parent and child viewpoint.

Promoting the importance of sound attachments with their child, they encourage parents to be involved in every aspect of day-to-day care.

Carers will give practical advice and guidance about child requirements but also be mindful of the parents’ own needs, particularly those of vulnerable individuals.

And of course, the ultimate reward for any carer is when the experience results in a child remaining in the care of their parent.