First Steps

Our First Steps Early Autism Family Support programme is now available for families with autistic toddlers and young children (age 3 or less) who are diagnosed with or are showing signs of autism.

What Is FIRST STEPS and Why Is It Needed?

We provide multidisciplinary support in the family home for an initial 6-week period (the First Steps programme), which includes an assessment of the family’s current situation, strengths and needs plus practical support to enhance positive interactions and communication.  Depending on the therapists’ report at the end of the programme, this is likely to then lead to an offer of ongoing support for the family for as long as both they and their therapists feel it to be necessary.

Families with autistic children are often left to work everything out by themselves, with little meaningful guidance or support available either on the practical aspects of managing life or, crucially, on how to interact with their children in a way that leaves them feeling nurtured, builds trust and lays the foundations for a safe, loving, trust-based relationship in which the child can develop and thrive.

Our First Steps programme focuses on this vital area of promoting optimal communications between the autistic child and their caregivers, and empowering families to build strong relationships with them.

How Is FIRST STEPS Different?

Unlike many autism services out there, First Steps starts with a recognition of the inherent value and potential of each child, and focuses on building upon this potential, and upon the strengths and capacities of the caregivers.  It puts the child firmly at the centre, while providing parents and caregivers with the foundational support and understanding required to build secure and trusting relationships with their autistic child.

First Steps is a support programme informed by the latest scientific evidence about autism in young children.  It has been specially designed for us by researchers from Norland (a world-leading childcare higher education provider based in Bath that has been at the forefront of early childhood and inter-disciplinary inclusive practices for over 130 years) with the input of experienced child therapists, autism experts and parents of autistic children.  It has been licensed to be delivered by the Transforming Autism Project.

What Do We Want To Achieve?

For Parents/Caregivers:

  • A deeper understanding of their child’s experience and what they are attempting to communicate
  • An ability to build on enjoyable moments and re-create them in their daily interactions
  • Understanding of how to prevent and reduce stressful situations and experiences
  • Confidence in understanding and responding to their child’s strengths and capacities and their needs
  • An improved ability to create and environment that feels safe, accepting, enjoyable and free of over or under-stimulation.
  • Learn new ways of relating to and enjoying being with their child, and deeper emotional connection
  • A better understanding of how the family environment is conducive to nurturing and trusting relationship between parent/caregiver and their child
  • Appreciate the child’s experience of sensory stimulus and how this impacts on them and on interactions and functioning in the family
  • Understanding of how to embed these new skills into daily family life
  • Be empowered to seek support and collaborate with other agencies to receive services that meet their child’s needs

 For the children: 

  • A better ability to manage their feelings
  • Enhanced emotional resilience
  • Feelings of being understood
  • Improved emotional connection with their parents/caregivers
  • A sense of safety in their environment
  • A stronger sense of self and other, and a feeling of being grounded.
  • Improved play, communication and interaction with their parents/caregivers and family members
  • Better experiences when gradually transitioning to environments beyond the family (e.g. play groups, shopping, travelling, pre-school, etc)

How Does It Work?

There’ll be twice-weekly visits to the family home during the First Steps programme by a paediatric occupational therapist and a child psychotherapist, both professionally qualified, registered and experienced in working with young autistic children and their families.  They will work closely with each other to provide consistent support to the child and the caregivers in the best possible way.

The therapists work directly with the child in a playful manner and provide guidance and practical skills to parents/caregivers on how to interact with them to support their development and wellbeing in a nurturing and supportive environment.

The child and family’s current situation will be assessed and support and guidance will be offered help the family interact with the child in a way that nurtures them and promotes their development and well-being in the context of their environment.  The emphasis is on improving interactions and relationships as a means to achieve this.

Families will pay a contribution towards the cost of the sessions (the amount of the contribution will depend on income so that no family should find it impossible to access to the programme due to finances).

As this is a family-based programme, your active engagement in all sessions will be required.

Am I Eligible?

AGE – Your child must be aged 3 or less.

DIAGNOSIS STATUS – The programme is suitable for children whose parents are concerned that they may exhibit autistic traits, or who have an autism diagnosis but do not receive any support or therapy (or where the support/therapy they receive is compatible with the underlying principles of the First Steps programme)

LOCATION – These are new services and as such are currently available in a very limited number of locations.  Below are the areas that we currently cover, and there may be scope (depending on the availability of our therapists) to serve families in some of the areas immediately surrounding these areas.  We’ll be looking to expand our reach over the coming months, so please do check back here.

  • Oxford
  • Colchester
  • High Wycombe
  • Marlow
  • Princes Risborough
  • Haddenham
  • Suffolk

What To Do Next?

If you would like to take advantage of these services, you can register your interest by completing this form. You may also fill in this form if you are outside the areas which we currently cover, and we’ll add you to our waiting list to be contacted if we expand to your area before your child is 4.

If you’re in one of the areas we currently cover, you’ll be contacted by someone on our team, with a view to arranging a discussion with one of our therapists to assess you for the programme.

If you’re outside these areas, you may request in your email to be added to our waiting list and to be notified if and when we are able to expand to your area.

Support Us To Reach More Families

We need your help to make sure we reach as many families as possible to transform their lives!!  please consider donating or better still setting up a regular donation to us or raising money through local or challenge events.