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Autism Sleep Problems

There’s a saying in the autism world – “If you’ve met one autistic person, then you’ve met one autistic person”.

Autism is, as we know, a spectrum, and on it lies innumerable facets of difference and similarity in comparison to not only the neurotypical, but the autistic alike. You may never know if you have met someone with autism, especially if they find they are socially well versed, however, as a parent of an autistic child I have found it simpler to try and spot the fellow parents of young, autistic children.

The No Sleep Club

When children with autism are very young, you may find yourself part of what I call the “No Sleep Club”.

Image shows a photograph of a close-up of a tea cup, with a young girl out of focus in the background, lying on the floor reading a book

One of many early-morning photos, taken at 3:37am.

Being the parent to an autistic child whom does not sleep is obvious to other card-carrying members of the no sleep club – the early mornings  and late night bedtime turmoil, present themselves as red eyes; you get sick of people asking if you’ve been crying (and perhaps you have, and that’s ok – more on this later!). The dark circles and lines beneath your eyes you thought were predestined for your elderly years, start to make an unwanted appearance 20 years before schedule. People talk to you, but you wonder if you’re losing your hearing, because you just can’t understand a word they say, and it takes you approximately 45 seconds to reply to any question asked of you (except, perhaps for “would you like a tea or coffee?”), and when it comes to verbally communicating, you perhaps get an idea of how difficult it is for our kids to process information, as you struggle to form a complete sentence no matter how simple the subject matter.

The Now-Obvious Signs of Early Autism

Sleep is absolutely vital to every living thing on this planet, and only when you’ve been deprived of it, can you truly understand the devastating effect it can have on every angle of your life.

My daughter is 8 years old, and she was diagnosed with Autism when she was 22 months old. “22 months old? That’s impossible!” I hear you gasp. However my daughter was so obviously autistic from an early age that the diagnosis came secondary to the treatment, as it was clearly imperative to all involved that she should receive Speech and Language Therapy (SLT), Occupational Therapy (OT) and be supported at nursery via a Statement of Special Educational Needs (now known as EHCP) as soon as possible.

The first time a SLT came around to our house, she sat calmly on the floor opposite myself and my daughter (who was most likely running around in a circle humming nursery rhymes at the time) and took a moment to take-in what she was going to be dealing with.

A few moments passed, and she simply said “I am here because you are worried that your daughter has a social communication delay, and I just need to tell you now that we can see she has autism”.

That was basically a diagnosis at 22  months of age. We didn’t need a plethora of tests to certify her diagnosis, that was purely a formality which came at the age of 3.

Tippy-toe walking, no eye contact, hand flapping (stimming), no gestures (pointing, waving etc), a lot of screaming – almost constant screaming, poor coordination, severe sensory issues (although it took us a long time to work that out, and understanding her sensory issues quelled some of the screaming), echolalia, no functional language whatsoever, and … no sleep.

When Will My Baby Finally Sleep Through?

From being a baby my daughter would struggle to sleep – it was either that it was seemingly impossible to get her to fall asleep, or that she would sleep so lightly even when utterly exhausted, she could be woken by the wind blowing outside of the window.

At first, when she was tiny, we thought it was colic, then teething, then after this point the world just started spiraling into absurdity as we tried to figure out why she wouldn’t sleep.

It would take us hours, literally, to get her to fall asleep, and then when she did, we had no guarantee as to how long she would stay asleep for.

She would wake at two hour intervals throughout the night, and once awake, would scream endlessly whilst kicking holes in the plaster of the wall around her bed.

Image shows blankets and duvets strewn across a sofa and the floor, with a girl and her dad asleep on the floor

Under the mass of duvets and blankets lies one very exhausted little girl and her dad, having been awake for hours in the night – the pair finally succumbing to sleep.

Mostly she would simply start the day at 2am, and become more frustrated and bored as we slowly approached 5 am, where she had already been awake 3 hours. We took reluctant trips to the 24-hour Tesco just for a way to pass the time. We waited impatiently for 9am or 10am to finally arrive, at which point we might actually be able to partake in some “normal” activities, as the world finally caught-up with our family.

Not sleeping, not having a routine, not being able to rely on the therapeutic and restorative qualities of sleep throws everything you thought you knew about life right out of the window.

How can I keep dragging myself into work each morning when I’ve been up since 2am for the past 3 months? How can I socialise when I don’t know if my daughter will fall asleep before I go out, and stay asleep once we’ve come home? Even more importantly, is there anyone willing to babysit my insomniac child? Is my child going to be able to do anything with her day given she’s slept 4 hours in a 48 hour period? Am I going to be able to continue to function like an average human when my brain is breaking under the pressure of sleep deprivation?

The answer is no, you can not function without sleep – and this is why I am writing this post. You should not have to suffer and “just get on with it”. My partner and I have been through exactly what you might be going through, and I hope I can offer some help.

You need to rest not only to retain your positive spirit, wellbeing and mental health, but also to be able to devote yourself to being a brilliant parent to your autistic child.

First Things First – Getting the Right Support

If you have a child with a disability you are entitled to support from your local authority for something termed “Short Breaks”. Although this might sound like you’re being offered a weekend for two in The Lakes, it is in fact a form of funding that should provide you with regular breaks from your caring responsibilities. What is great about Short Breaks is the aim is to not only give you a rest so that you have a chance to do something you enjoy, but it should also provide your child with an opportunity to do something they can enjoy, safely with the appropriate care.

So, whilst you are working on strategies to enhance the sleep routine of your family, you should first enquire with your local authority about your entitlement to Short Breaks.

Short Breaks come in many forms, from having a trained carer take your child out to the park once a week, to funding towards clubs or paid-for activities that your child can partake in whilst you have a break. Funding can also cover overnight care if you are comfortable with your child being looked after away from home, or perhaps if your child is young and not of school age, funding can be put towards nursery sessions.

For more information and support regarding Short Breaks please look at this page on the Contact website.

Creating the Perfect Sleep Environment

Ensuring your child has the correct environment to sleep in is no mean feat, especially if your child has autism and is non-verbal. As a parent of a non-verbal child, you spend most of your day in a tizzy of confusion and shared frustration trying to guess what the basic wants and needs of your child are.

If your child has sensory issues, it is so important that you confer with your Occupational Therapist to clarify the underlying sensory needs of your child.

Children with autism and other disabilities can often be over (hyper) or under (hypo) stimulated by not only the obvious sensory inputs, such as sound, light and touch, but also two less frequently talked-about senses: vestibular and proprioceptive.

Sensory issues are in themselves almost as complex and personal to the child as every other dimension of their autism, and this is why you should ensure that your child has been seen by your local OT so you can make the right decision about changes to the bedroom and any aids that might benefit your child in their sleep.

Proprioceptive and Vestibular Issues and How they Might Affect Sleep

The Proprioceptive and Vestibular senses are not talked-about very often, but if they are not functioning quite as they should, they can cause some very confusing and upsetting sensory experiences for our children.

The vestibular sense relates to your movement and balance – it is the sense of bodily balance, the speed at which you are moving, a sense of overall gravity and how you know which direction your body is in.

The proprioceptive sense is even more tricky to explain, as it is how your mind computes the position of one body part to another, and also, how much pressure you need to employ for certain tasks, such as writing or gripping a cup.

We have discovered that our daughter is mostly hyposensitive in regards to both her proprioceptive and vestibular senses – therefore, she is under-responsive. We have found that this often translates as poor coordination and seeking more fulfilling physical sensory feedback (such as running, lying on the floor or enjoying the most terrifying of rollercoasters and amusement park rides!).

We have found an excellent website that can clarify the signs of hyper/hypo sensitivity to the proprioceptive and vestibular senses here :

Bedtime products that might assist children with poor proprioceptive and vestibular senses are as follows:

  1. Base Layers

If your child is under-responsive to the touch of clothing and bedding, they might not be getting the correct feedback about their position in bed whilst lying down. One excellent way of providing your child with a more constant source of sensory feedback is to try wearing base layers for bed time, or even just very tight-fitting pyjamas. The feel of the closeness of the base layers against the skin will give constant and consistent feedback, which may hopefully allow your child to relax as they are more aware of their position in bed.

  1. Weighted Blankets

Again, for children whom struggle to have a true sense of their position and their relation to the bed and their own limbs, they might benefit from a weighted blanket. The pressure from the blanket can provide great comfort to many children, and give them not only a sense of security, but fulfil those sensory needs. Weighted blankets come in various weights, and you should contact your OT to get the correct pressure ratio depending on your child’s weight and height.

Other Sleep Aids and How they Relate to Sensory Issues

  1. Lighting

Lighting for your autistic child’s bedroom is rather tricky – as it definitely depends upon where they sit in terms of sensory issues. Although we assume that an entirely blacked-out bedroom is most conducive to sleep, if your child is under-stimulated visually, you may find that the darkness of their bedroom offers only opportunities of pure confusion for them.

Every person will briefly wake in the night, even if we don’t remember the event come morning. However, for most of us, we are naturally very aware of our surroundings even when in a sleepy haze. Yet, if your child is not processing sensory input from their surroundings correctly, during that tiny moment of wakefulness, they may become scared, confused and anxious as to not only their bodily position, but also the obvious – where they are!

This may cause them to wake fully, and then you’re all back at step one!

I have found the best method to clarify your child’s lighting needs is to first try the obvious – make the room as dark as possible, then slowly work on introducing small light sources to see if this has a positive impact.

It took us 8 years to discover that our daughter is “afraid” of the dark. She can not explain why or what she doesn’t like about the dark, but by her own actions we now know she prefers a small light source whilst sleeping – and most specifically, she likes to be able to hold the light as she falls asleep.

So, to ensure the bedroom is as dark as possible we suggest:

Blackout curtains – ideal for keeping daylight out and also benefit by keeping the warmth in/cold out! (Be aware of patterned curtains though, as no matter how much you may like them for your child’s room, they can be over-stimulating visually.)


Groblind – Portable blackout blind with suction cups, eradicates most light by being attached directly to the windowpane. Fits any window up to 130 cm x 198 cm.


Bed Tunnels – these are fun whilst also being functional! In effect, you are safely bringing the ceiling closer to your child whilst they sleep, which may help them process their position in bed a little easier, whilst also adding a little more darkness and cosiness.


As for lighting – well, there are a number of therapeutic lights available, but sometimes it might just be best to choose a low-level light that specifically appeals to your child’s interests and likes!

Groclock – Many children with autism have learning difficulties and/or language delay, and this can make the ability to convey the difference between night and day almost impossible. We will cover more on this specific angle in the Sleep Hygiene section, however, the Groclock may offer a quick-fix in terms of trying to establish the difference in your child’s mind.

The Groclock will turn blue and display a ring of stars once it is bedtime, with a large sleepy, smiling star central to the clock during the nighttime. As morning approaches, the ring of stars slowly disappear, one-by-one, until finally, at a time of your choosing, the blue light will fade to orange, and a smiling sunshine will appear. My only issue with the Groclock is that it has been proven that blue light is actually not the best colour light for sleep issues, as it can mimic daylight. The best colour, confusingly, is orange or red – however I still think the Groclock is worth a go, especially if your child is starting to understand the passage of time, and it also comes with a lovely little illustrated book about farm animals to help your child understand the function of the clock.

Battery Operated LED Lights – If you feel your child would benefit for their own little light that they can hold, touch and operate themselves, then thankfully the internet offers a whole plethora of lovely designs and shapes.

I would suggest not going for a colour-changing LED night light, as this might offer too much stimulation and would stop your child falling asleep/being stimulated if waking in the night. (Also please ensure the light you purchase has a battery compartment which is secured with a screw, and preferably uses AA/AAA batteries rather than cell batteries – as these can be extremely dangerous if swallowed).


My daughter has a lovely little LED light in the shape of a cloud, and she will hold it close to her face as she falls asleep. It is battery powered and also has an auto-off function after 5 minutes, making it ideal for her to keep in her bed all night long. On top of this she also has a piece of LED wall art, which is battery powered, upon her wall just a short distance away from her bed. This is left on all night, but due to being battery powered it gives-off just the right amount of light.


  1. Decor and Bedding

Again, although each child has very different needs, one aspect I believe is common for all young children with autism is that they will benefit from having a low-stimuli bedroom. This is important in a way that lowering visual stimuli applies to all children of a certain age – if there is nothing in their room to distract them, then it is obviously very difficult for them to be distracted!

This was one aspect that really touched upon a nerve with me when my daughter was younger – on learning I was to become a mum, one of my first realisations was how much fun it was going to be to decorate my child’s room in an exciting way! Lots of lovely pictures and colours, pretty ornaments and oodles of toys for them to enjoy.

However, as time progressed, and we started to realise that our daughter needed extra help with something as simple as sleeping, it occurred to me that I needed to relinquish my hold on my previous dreams of a fun bedroom for her, and concentrate on making it functional and calming.

Image shows three squares of colour overlapping slightly diagonally (light pink, light green and pale cream)

Very pale pink, green and cream are proven to calm both boys and girls with autism

I suggest that choosing very calming colours is the first-and-foremost important step. Colours such as very pale green or cream are proven to calm. It is imperative that you stay away from not only bold, bright colours on the walls, but even more importantly, patterned wallpaper. The patterns in the wallpaper can be visually arresting to even adults (ever stared for too long at an abstract pattern, that you become convinced you see something relevant in it?!)

For our kids, patterns in wallpaper can be actually quite unnerving for them (or for some they might be overly engaging), and may completely occupy their thought processes, meaning they can not relax or go to sleep.

The same applies to bedding – keep everything simple in terms of calm, pale, plain bedding and not too many accessories, such as throw-cushions etc.

Next, is toys. As I mentioned previously, I initially wanted a little safe-haven for my daughter when she was born, but it didn’t take long to understand that having a bedroom brimming with toys and therefore, distractions, was ultimately not ideal in terms of getting her to sleep.

This doesn’t mean that your child has to have an entirely desolate bedroom, devoid of anything of comfort – however, I would keep articles to that requirement – only items that are simple, and will provide your child with comfort.

If you can experiment with making your child’s room low-stimuli for a trial period, and you find this has a positive effect, then once they are a little older and (hopefully) sleeping better, you could slowly reintroduce a few fun items.

My daughter has a cabin bed, and below it is a set of storage drawers/boxes that contain her toys – whilst she is sleeping, she can not see them, and I think that helps a lot.

Sleep Hygiene – What is it and How Will it Help?

Something of an odd term if you’ve never heard of it before, “sleep hygiene” relates to all the activities and processes involved in the approaching period before bedtime (and even during the nighttime, when your child should be sleeping). There are a number of key guidelines that should always be followed before bedtime to ensure that your child is relaxed and calm before even attempting to put them in bed.

Visual Aids and PECS

If your child is non-verbal or has SEN it can be almost a surreal experience trying to convey to them that they need to sleep at night. Not only do they need to sleep, but mum and dad really, really need them to sleep. If they don’t sleep, well, everyone is very sad, because they’re very tired. That is putting it mildly.

It is difficult for parents of typical children to truly get this point across to their kids without simplifying the subject, and even more so if your child struggles with new or abstract concepts.

Hopefully, depending on age and the support you have received so far, your child may be able to understand simple symbols and may even enjoy reading short picture books. If so, then I would enquire with your SLT to see if not only do they have visual aids and “Now and Next” boards you could use with your child before bed, but also they may have on file a “social story” regarding sleeping.

The PECS and visual aids, used alongside a Now and Next board, or even a time-line, can help you map-out exactly what is expected of your child before bed. Having a good routine and simplifying this in a way that “speaks” to them more easily using pictures, may help alleviate some of the frustration and confusion when it comes to getting ready for bed.

Bedtime Prep and Calm-Time

Bedtime prep should be started an hour before the actual desired sleep-time. The first important part of this prep is to stop all high-stimuli activities – no iPads, TV, games or loud music. There needs to be an obvious stop to the usual daytime activities so they can understand that soon, it will be time for sleeping. Personally, we have found that moving our daughter upstairs in the hour before bed works well – now she is older she can potter around for a while in her bedroom whilst we watch her, and then we move on to having a bath. We make sure all the lights are low-level, curtains closed and that every night we do all prep (other than the bath!) in her bedroom – so she knows for sure that this is the room where sleeping happens, and hopefully (!), will stay in there during the night.

Please keep in mind that your GP may be able to prescribe melatonin for your child – melatonin is a hormone that is released by the body as daylight levels fade, allowing you to relax and helping your body and brain understand that sleep is soon due. Although we did try this with our daughter, unfortunately it made no difference to her sleep issues. It can not do any harm to naturally ensure that your child’s circadian rhythm (body clock) is ticking over correctly though, and the best and natural way to do this is to ensure lots of outdoors/sunshine in the daytime, and dark, calm time before bed.


Just as ensuring the time before bed is simple, predictable and calm, it is just as important to carry-through these concepts if your child wakes in the night. I know first-hand how difficult it can be to retain a sense of control in your role as a parent when woken endlessly, night after night. You may get to a point, after weeks or months of sleep deprivation where you feel like giving in to whatever you feel your child wants when they wake early.

I have shared support groups with parents whom understandably, yet ultimately counterproductively, did things like offer their children juice and biscuits upon waking in the night, put the TV on for them (in the child’s bedroom nonetheless) or even let them play with an iPad. I am not judging anyone who feels like this is what they need to do to get a few extra minutes sleep, but as I said previously, you are ultimately creating a nighttime environment that will never be suitable for sleep. If a child (with or without SEN!) learns that they will receive treats or partake in fun activities in the middle of the night, they will probably keep waking for that exact reason.

Lying on the sofa, 3am, I have many-a-times been roused from my swirling, semiconscious nightmares of dense, seemingly idyllic woodland being trampled upon by giant, ballerina-skirted girl-monsters – because I too, have given up on trying to make my daughter sleep and given into her watching In the Night Garden, because I just didn’t know what else to do.

Further Help and Support

However, hopefully, even if that does sound like an average morning for you, I hope that if you can follow some of the tips we have offered here, we can help you and your family get the sleep you all deserve.

Writing to you directly as a mum who has been through the depths of sleep-deprivation despair, I understand that these tips we’ve offered you today might just seem too much to organise and change on your own. This is why I would like to reiterate that no matter how bad the situation may seem, or how difficult it is to keep on-top of everyday life whilst having such substantial caring responsibilities, it is imperative that you seek assistance and respite for you and your child.

It is so important that you take the time to care for yourself – as important as the care your child needs. Remember – contact your local authority to discuss your entitlement to “short breaks” respite, and if you are ever so tired that you are “just not yourself” or feeling very unhappy, I implore you to see your GP to discuss support, or for you to contact one of a number of disability charities that offer fantastic advice and emotional support.

Images shows large text which reads "Contact" then smaller text which reads "For families with disabled children"Contact: 0808 808 3555

Image shows a rainbow-coloured, spectrum in a circle with the text National Autistic SocietyNational Autistic Society: 0808 800 410


Image shows the word Cerebra (in capital letters) with a yellow star to the right, Underneath text reads "Working wonders for children with brain conditions"Cerebra: Sleep Service 01267 244210



Many thanks to Chris Bonnello who helped with the editing of this post:

Chris Bonnello (Autistic Not Weird)

Twitter: @AutisticNW

Abbreviations in Special Educational Needs – what do they mean?

Children in a circle in a special education classroom

A special educational needs setting

One thing you’ll notice about Special Educational Needs is the sheer number of abbreviations and acronyms you have to learn. What’s the difference between ASD and ADHD? What’s an EHCP? Should you be afraid of a COP? This guide should help you navigate…

(note: Where an abbreviation is written in initial lower case, it is usually pronounced as a word, for example it’s Senco, not ess ee en see oh).


ABA – Applied Behaviour Analysis is used to help children with autism, it looks at patterns of  behaviour and tries to find causes, and ways of dealing with them or preventing them.

AD – attachment disorder (sometimes attachment behaviour disorder, or ABD). This is a range of conditions believed to be caused by trauma in early childhood, which can lead to behavioural problems in childhood and adult life.

ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This is a range of symptoms including impulsiveness, restlessness and finding it harder to focus than your peers. Because of the setting of school it is most often diagnosed during primary school age.

AR – Annual Review. All children with a statement of special educational needs (now an Education Health and Care Plan) have this provision reviewed once a year, to ensure it still meets their needs, or to see if it is no longer required. If progress is being made and the plan is right for the child without amendments, there may be a No Change Review (NCR).

APD – Auditory Processing Disorder – a child can hear ok medically, but is unable to process the meaning of words. Sometimes they can repeat words but without knowing what they are saying.

AS – Asperger Syndrome. A type of autism that generally involves higher functioning individuals who perceive the world in a way that most people would see as different. It is not associated with the learning delay or disabilities of other kinds of autism.

ASC – Autistic Spectrum Conditions. Many professionals now use the term “condition” instead of “disorder” to promote the idea that autism should not be a barrier to living a complete life, with necessary adjustments. See ASD.

ASD – autistic spectrum disorder, aka autism. This is a different way of perceiving the world around you. People with ASD often have difficulty reading emotions, making relationships or understanding social situations as easily as their peers, as well as a degree of learning difficulty. But as the word “spectrum” suggests, it covers a number of different levels of need, and conditions of varying severity.

ARE – age related expectations. If a child is working Below Age Related Expectations (BARE) they may have special educational needs.

BARE – see ARE

BESD Behaviour, Emotional and Social Difficulties (also known as SEBD or EBD) is a ‘catch-all’ term  used for any condition that affects behaviour, emotions or social interactions. It
is used for a wide range of conditions and children.

BSP – Behaviour Support Plan. These are usually put in place by schools for children who have behavioural issues to assess their progress and outline expectations over a set period of time, for example a school term.

Camhs – Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services.

CIC – Child in Care. A child who is being looked after by (for example) a foster family after they have been removed from their parents by social services.

COP (or Cop) – Change of Provision. This is where a child moves from a special school to a mainstream school, or vice versa, because their needs (or the assessment of them) has changed.

CPAP (Cee-pap)- Continuous Positive Airway Pressure is a fan and a face-mask, that blows air at the child increasing the air pressure to open the airways of the throat. It is used for breathing difficulties such as heavy snoring, asthma, low blood oxygen levels (SATS) and sleep apnoea.

EAL – English as an additional language. This generally means young people for whom English is not their first language, who may speak another language at home.

EHCP – Education, Health and Care Plan. This is a plan to help a child who has special educational needs in school. They are replacing statements and will have entirely replaced them by April 2018. There is a good post here on navigating that process.

EP (or Ed Psych) – Educational Psychologist. These experts help assess the needs of children who may have special educational needs by observing children in their educational setting.

EYFS – Early Years Foundation Stage. This is school or nursery-based education from birth to the end of Reception, when a child is five years old.

G Tube
A Gastronomy tube way of feeding a child who has swallowing or difficulty eating. There is a tube through the stomach wall (known as a PEG) so that food and medicines can go directly into the stomach. It is a longer term alternative to NG Tubes.

HI – Hearing Impairment (or Hearing Impaired).

IEP – Individual Education Plan
An IEP is a plan or a program built to help a child achieve the targets outlined in an
EHCP. It is built around the curriculum that the child is following and uses strategies
tailored directly to the child.

KS – Key Stage. Education in England is divided into Key Stages – KS1 from 5 to 7 years old, KS2 from 7 to 11, KS3 from 11 to 14 and KS4 from 14 to 16.

LA – Local Authority.

LAC – Looked After Child. More common term nowadays is CIC or “child in care”.

LSA – Learning Support Assistant. These education professionals often work one-to-one with a particular child with SEN to develop a relationship and help with their learning, which may be particularly differentiated to their needs. They may also assist with physical needs eg toileting.

MLD – moderate learning difficulties.

NCR – No Change Review. See AR.

Neet (or NEET) – Not in Education, Employment or Training. Young people without qualifications are at risk of being Neet – where their options for work or education are limited.

NG- tube – A thin (often yellow) Naso-gastric tube that can be used short term for emergency food and drink when a child cannot eat. It goes through the nose, down the throat and into the stomach and requires trained use as there is a danger that the tube is in an airway and not in the stomach.

OT – Occupational Therapy (or Therapist). Day-to-day physical therapies for children who have disabilities or who may require recuperation from eg surgery.

Pecs (or PECS) – Picture Exchange Communication System. This is a way of using pictures to represent words, to assist children who have communication issues and autism.

PMLD – Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties. These are children who require the most support in an educational setting.

PRU – Pupil Referral Unit. These are institutions which take “hard to place” children who may have severe SEN or behavioural issues, with the latter resulting in exclusion from a mainstream school.

SALT (or S&LT) – Speech And Language Therapy (or Therapist). These are professionals who help children, especially those with communication difficulties or autism.

SATS – oxygen saturations, often with ‘SATS monitor’ as seen on hospitals wards, they show a percentage indicating how much oxygen in the the blood. They can be small and portable or bigger when used for overnight monitoring. A home sats monitor can be bought here.

Grey box with digital percentage readings

A typical SATS monitor used in NHS hospitals but can also be given to parents for overnight monitoring

SLT – Senior Leadership Team. At a school, this comprises the head teacher and assistant heads (plus principals, if it is an academy).

SEMH – social, emotional and mental health. This is a range of needs that can include behavioural problems and anxiety.

SEN (or Sen) – special educational needs.

Senco (or SENCO, or Sendco, or SENDCO) – Special Educational Needs (and Disabilities) Co-ordinator. These are qualified teachers who organise and co-ordinate a school’s SEN provision by working with other professionals, organising EHCPs and interventions etc.

SEND – special educational needs and disabilities

SWAN – Syndrome without a name
Children who doctors have been unable to diagnose with a specific condition are
often referred to as SWAN. These are usually children with a genetic disorder. A support charity called SWAN is here.

TA – Teaching Assistant. These professionals have a couple of roles: in the classroom they support the work of the class teachers, and they also teach small groups of children, particularly with interventions.

VI – Visual Impairment (or Visually Impaired).

Some of this information was taken from a printable glossary created by the Little Miracles charity which is available to download here

Little Miracles is a charity that supports children with disabilities and their families and siblings in the Peterborough area of UK.

Please suggest any acronyms or abbreviations that you have encountered in the comments.

The joy of fidgeting: how fidget spinners took over the world

Do Fidget Spinners help Children Learn?

You see them everywhere, a colourful blur right across the country, wherever there are children. Where once it was marbles or loom bands or bottle flips, the fidget spinner has become the craze of 2017. But how did this toy, designed to help children who have issues with concentrating, become the go-to gadget of our times? And have we lost sight of what they’re really meant to be used for?

The classroom can be a daunting experience for some of us. A number of conditions, including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), attachment behaviour disorder (ABD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), mean that it’s harder to be “ready to learn” than your peers.

While most children (and adults) find it possible, if not always desirable, to sit in silence and focus on one other person talking, for others it’s more of a challenge. The sensory deprivation can leave some of us feeling agitated, on edge, with nervous energy that’s hard to keep in check. In a classroom environment this can manifest itself in all kinds of (for the educator) unwanted behaviour which are (for the learner) an aid to concentration. From calling out and interrupting to flipping rulers on desks or folding paper, educators find that learners’ self-therapy can be distracting and take away from the flow of a lesson. So is there another way of coping?

The theory of fidget toys is simple: if you have difficulty concentrating, it gives you something to occupy your senses. The pleasant whirr of the spinner as its outer spokes whirl around the central hub creates a light vibration. Watching the spokes slowly come to a halt – they run on ceramic or steel bearings – is a strangely satisfying experience, as it takes just that little bit longer than your brain expects.

In a classroom environment it can be easy for an educator to mistake this behaviour for disruption, whereas it is in fact an expression of unfocused energy or repetitive behaviour that the child finds useful in order to concentrate and be ready to learn, particular when around others. While some children with special educational needs find it more stressful to be in a noisy classroom, others find the silent “teacher talk, you listen” sections of a lesson to be the most challenging.

Fidget toys provide an outlet for the energy these learners – adults as well as children – need to dissipate, in such a way as to be a minimal distraction for those around them, and teachers too. It allows a child to express their needs and be as stress-free as possible, without hindering the learning of others.

Educators, learning mentors, learning support assistants and play therapists will be familiar with “busy boxes” and sensory equipment for children who have special educational needs. Traditionally, sensory toys have been cobbled together from other toys and ordinary household items, for example – but the fidget spinner, and its cousin the fidget cube, were specifically designed to help learning.

Whether that means they are more effective than what professionals have been using for years is up for debate. And whether it’s more helpful to have fidget toys to be used in the classroom, rather than during specially timetabled sensory breaks, is another issue. But there’s no debating how popular these toys have become among all kinds of children – and their purpose has changed, from their original mission to all-round craze and, as we see them now, a phenomenon.

Now you can find not just three-pronged spinners but two and four-pronged spinners, glittering colours, even with LEDs to sparkle underneath a desk or in a dim room. And so have come the tricks that have elevated these toys from their purpose to something entirely different: as the hula hoop of our times. With that popularity has come cheap imitation, of course, leading to German authorities seizing millions of potentially lethal spinners and planning to crush them.

The prevalence of spinners has led to some schools banning them outright, and others making them disappear from the classroom, allowed during breaktimes. This policy, while understandable, might be a little hasty, since the benefits of these toys are not yet fully understood. As an educator, I have seen them being used effectively already with children who have additional learning needs, to give them something to keep their hands busy and their minds occupied during teacher input. So while it might be irritating to see that blur out of the corner of our eyes, it might be best to consider they really might have a positive value to learning after all.