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Top 5 autism tips: fostering

Lee and Jacqui are foster carers with Credo Care, an independent, not-for-profit fostering agency specialising in the care of children with disabilities, complex medical needs and learning difficulties. They have fostered two lovely autistic little girls for over five years. They have compiled their top tips for foster carers of autistic children.

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Author: Lee and Jacqui

Top 5 autism tips: fostering

1. Gather information

During the child's transition to your care glean as much information as you can from the people in their lives who know them well:

  • Find out about their routines. 
  • What things are important to that particular child?
  • What do you need to have in place or replicate?
  • What are triggers for anxiety?
  • What do you need to avoid?
  • What are their dislikes?
  • What is known to help the child feel safe, calm and secure?  

Food may be very important to the child.  For example, they may not eat anything red, they might like certain textures or they may only eat strong flavoured foods - find out as much as you can!  

You will need to consider all of their sensory needs:

  • What is essential and will overload them and cause anxiety?
  • Do they have a sensory diet (daily activity plan)?

For example: we bought the same washing powder that her short term carer used as smell was important to the child we fostered.

2. Do not change too much too quickly

  • Do not throw anything away that belongs to the child when they come into your care.
  • Resist the urge to go out and buy loads of new things, it may be overloading for the child.
  • Give your foster child space. They will need time adjust to this massive change to their life.  
  • Take a low key approach and do not feel that you need to fill every moment of their time but do have some structure in place using your knowledge about them and what makes them feel safe and secure.  You should put in boundaries straight away.  It can be very challenging and confusing to move the goal posts at a later date. 

3. Choose the right school

This is a huge decision, especially if the child is moving from a different borough into your care and needs to change schools.  

  • During the transition period, if you have the opportunity to visit the child's current school, then do so.  
  • Organise time to observe the child in class and time to speak directly with their teacher or anyone else involved in their education.  Listen to their views on the child's education needs and what must to be considered when identifying a school close to their new home.  
  • Research your local Special Educational Needs (SEN) schools, go online to read their Ofsted Reports and visit them.  Visiting them is really important as some schools will not consider a referral if you haven't taken the time to visit them in the first instance.
  • Ask what autism training their staff have. What is the school's experience of autism? Do they have capacity? Ask about the referral process.  Ask as many questions as you can.  
  • Be prepared to make a case for why you have chosen a certain school as you may not be offered a place there.

4. Expect the unexpected

Behaviours can change and be replaced with new behaviours. Anxieties can both increase and reduce.  One part of the child's life may be running smoothly but the next week, something has changed for them.  You may or may not know what has triggered this.  Fostering any child, whether they are on the autistic spectrum disorder or not, will bring both its challenges and rewards.  There is lots of support out there.

5. Join local support groups for autism  

You can google these.  Your local authority may have its own support groups and then there are organisations such as Autism West Midlands, that provide support to families, offer training and provide activities and events in a supportive environment.  Lots of carers benefit from being part of a local support group.

Date added: 7 September 2016