What is Wellbeing?

Everyone wants to lead a happy and fulfilling life. However, autistic children and young people with Severe Learning Disability (SLD) can face many obstacles on their path to wellbeing. The core features of autism and related difficulties, including social interaction/communication, sensory processing differences, restricted and repetitive behaviours, anxiety and the additional challenges associated with learning difficulties, may mean that children and young people rely on supporting adults to help them to navigate challenges and identify what makes them feel well.  

‘I thrive when I have people around me who support me, especially people who can understand my strengths and my struggles and support me in those without judgement’ (Gray-Hammond, 2020)

When considering the wellbeing of a child or young person with autism and SLD it is important to adopt a holistic, person-centred approach. Each child or young person is an individual with unique needs and strengths and therefore strategies implemented, and support provided, should reflect this.

Identifying the difficulties a child or young person may be facing is essential for providing effective support and therefore promoting wellbeing. However, it is also important to focus on positives and what helps each individual child or young person to feel happy. 

….’instead of trying to prevent people with autism from having negative feelings we should develop strategies that foster and increase positive feelings’

(Vermuelen, 2014 quoted in Jones & Hurley pp.8-17)

With an emphasis on an individual’s strengths and interests, they can be supported to live a happy, healthy and fulfilling life. 

Components of Wellbeing 

Wellbeing can be an abstract concept. For autistic children and young people with SLD, wellbeing can be understood in terms of having a number of equally important and interdependent components.

  • Physical 

Consider the physical health and wellbeing of the child or young person, for example, medical conditions, sleep, diet.  

  • Environmental 

Consider the physical environment and the setting. Is it suitable for the child or young person’s needs? Is the learning environment meeting the needs of the child or young person?

Consider the sensory processing differences and sensitivities of the child or young person. e.g., sensitivity to noise, light. 

Consider how the child/young person communicates and how they can be supported with this. 

  • Social

Consider what social opportunities are available for the child or young person, and how are they supported in their interactions with others.  Ensure the social opportunities are appropriate to the individual’s level of coping and communication style.

  • Emotional

Consider when the child or young person is happiest and most at ease. Ensure they have opportunities to express their emotions and to communicate how they are feeling.

Click here to view wellbeing review which provides prompts for collating information for each area of wellbeing for an individual. 

Wellbeing Overview 

Click here to view a proactive wellbeing profile template where collated information about individual’s strengths and needs can be recorded and shared. 

Proactive Wellbeing Template and Example 

Emotional Literacy 

Emotional literacy is the ability to recognise and communicate emotions and read the emotions of others. Autistic children and young people can struggle to recognise and interpret their own emotional state. They may lack awareness of their bodily sensations and/or have difficulty in linking these sensations to emotions. This is due to differences in interoceptive awareness, which means the child or young person is not efficiently processing and interpreting signals from within the body. Difficulty in communicating emotions is sometimes referred to as alexithymia. If the child or young person cannot recognise or communicate emotional states, they will not recognise when they need to regulate themselves, or be able to ask others for help with regulation.

Many autistic children and young people will therefore benefit from consistent calming activities scheduled throughout the day. They will require support from adults who know them well and can recognise the early indicators of dysregulation, and provide suitable regulating activities. Explicit teaching around emotional literacy should also be provided.

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