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What is the positive change that has emerged through new collaborations or partnerships during Covid-19 that your project is going to embed?

As a direct result of Covid 19 restrictions, autism assessments for preschool children have been moved from face to face to video assessment. Family feedback after the first 50 assessments via a questionnaire has been very positive. There have been advantages for families.

Following diagnosis we need to explain autism to families, how it relates to the complex behaviours seen in their children and to offer advice about teaching children with autism to communicate. Due to a large increase in referrals from 26 in 2012 to 190 in 2019 and limited staff available there is minimal capacity to do so. Working with NE-AS we have been able to set up groups offering ‘Introduction to autism and an Emotional wellbeing session’ as well as a session delivered by a Specialist speech and language therapist about communication support.

What does your project aim to achieve?

Working with NE-AS we would aim to continue to deliver interactive group sessions run by an NE-AS worker, to offer specific advice, this would give us capacity to reach more families. We would also produce some videos which will provide information following a diagnosis of autism in preschool children. The videos will address common themes raised in discussion with families which could include: sleep/challenging behaviours/restricted eating/toilet training and investigating causes of developmental difficulties.

GNCH and NE-AS cover a wide geographical area, group video sessions will enable those from the wider region to access advice and support more easily. With continued uncertainty relating to Covid 19 restrictions it is essential that systems are in place to support these families. The intention is to make the video groups sustainable in the longer term through funding of an NE-AS worker to run the sessions.

How will the project be delivered?

To deliver this programme we intend to coproduce with families more specifically about what they want to know. Once established our experienced team of Specialist speech and language therapists’ and Paediatric staff will work in collaboration with Occupational therapists’ and voluntary sector experts (NE-AS) to deliver group sessions via video and Zoom.

Introduction to autism

Emotional wellbeing

Virtual support group meeting with associated themed videos

To promote effective and efficient communication around common themes and online group support will be made available to all families. This will save time and reduce environmentally detrimental travel for both families and professionals.

38% of the preschool autism caseload does not have English as a first language; therefore programme delivery will be made available in multiple languages through the medium of video with translation and subtitles.

How is your project going to share learning?

Around 1% of children in the UK receive an autism diagnosis. Even prior to the pandemic, autism services across the country were being challenged due to a marked increase in referrals resulting in long waiting lists for assessments and post diagnosis support. Our online interactive post diagnostic support groups delivered by people with a high level of knowledge around autism could be opened up beyond the local area or could be replicated elsewhere. Information videos about the common issues faced by families of young children with autism(communication, sleep, behaviour, sensory difficulties and selective eating)could be watched by anyone with internet access. Having listened to parents we want to share this learning with them providing support about and for their children so they avoid that feeling of being alone.

How you can contribute

  • We have a lot of professional expertise in working1:1 with families or in small groups but not with how to scale this to a larger reach.
  • Some informal trial videos have been made over Zoom but these could be improved and produced more professionally, we could benefit from advice as to how to do this.
  • The government have been reviewing autism provision as a national priority and we would appreciate strategic advice about how to link with this.

Plan timeline

28 Feb 2021 Scope project content with family involvement. Collect and collate data
30 Mar 2021 Finalise how many interactive videos/workshops will be delivered
30 Apr 2021 Confirm video content utilising evaluation of feedback. Advertise workshops
31 May 2021 Commence workshops.
30 Jun 2021 Start production of videos. Test workshop progress
31 Aug 2021 Video launch with social media promotion
31 Oct 2021 Test programmes to date/publish data
31 Jan 2022 Evaluate programme at 3 months
28 Feb 2022 Agree plan to disseminate programme
31 Mar 2022 Publish evaluation report


  1. This sounds very useful. Several of my patients have had autism assessment paused. Do you have any pilot data comparing virtual vs F2F assessment outcomes?

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