Autism Spectrum Psychology
Thank you for visiting this website. I’m afraid that you won’t find any bells and whistles here–just information about me and the services I can offer, plus a little bit of background about the diagnostic process.
My name is Philip Whitaker and for the final 18 years of my Local Authority career I worked as a Specialist Senior Educational Psychologist specializing in autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Since leaving Local Authority employment I’ve worked independently in the same field. Throughout my career, I’ve worked directly with children, families and school staff, providing advice and support to meet the the needs of youngsters with ASD. I’ve been lucky enough to work in 2 different Local Authorities which, in their different ways, were considered to be leaders in terms of provision for youngsters with ASD. Leicestershire developed the first ever autism outreach service to provide training and support for children with ASD, their teachers and their parents. Northamptonshire pioneered training in the TEACCH approach and developed a network of ASD-specific provision using this approach. I’ve seen what can be achieved when good levels of resourcing and the right training and support for staff and parents have been provided. I’ve also seen what can go wrong when this isn’t available.
I can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
QUALIFICATIONS AND TRAINING
My first degree was from the University of Cambridge in 1973 and I qualified as an Educational Psychologist at the University of Nottingham in 1979, after a 2 year MA. In the first 15 years of my career I worked in 2 English Local Authorities and in Toronto, gradually specialising in work with youngsters with complex learning, communication and developmental difficulties. I was extremely fortunate to take on one of the UK’s first Specialist Senior Educational Psychology posts in the field of autism and worked in this role from 1995 until 2012.
During my career I’ve undertaken extensive further training and acquired a range of additional qualifications:
- Training and experience in the use of most of the widely recognized and best established ASD-specific assessment and diagnostic tools (you can find out more on the Diagnosis page)
- Accreditation and wide experience as a TEACCH trainer. TEACCH is one of the best established and most comprehensive approaches to the education and management of people with ASD. You can find out more by clicking this link: http://teacch.com.
- Training in the use of SCERTS. This is a comprehensive, evidence based approach which enables the detailed planning of individual teaching programmes. These are focussed on a range of very specific skills and understanding in the core areas of development affected by the young person’s autism.
- Training in Counselling Studies (Vaughan College, Leicester), Solution Focused Brief Therapy and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, all of which have proved extremely useful in working with some individuals who are on the autistic spectrum.
Perhaps the most important thing you need to know about me is that for all of the last 17 years I have continued to have extensive casework involvement with youngsters with ASD, their families and their schools. In my specialist role I have tended to be asked by colleagues to become involved with the most complex or challenging cases. I have also been involved in follow-up work with individual children for extended periods, either at home or in school. I hope this has kept me in touch with the practicalities of working and living with ASD–and with the challenge of turning tidy reports into messy reality!
Through the course of my career I have had a range of responsibilities and experiences:
- Developing and working with advisory teaching teams to develop advice,support and training for schools and families
- Managing the development of a specialist service for the families of pre-school aged children (including the first ever use of EarlyBird in a Local Authority context)
- Working with Local Authority officers and schools to develop provision for children and young people with ASD
- Working with the National Autistic Society to pioneer the use of their Accreditation Framework with Local Authority Services and extensive involvement in monitoring and evaluating provision within specific schools (as part of Local Authority inspection teams)
- Extensive experience in devising and delivering training in Local Authorities, universities and in conferences across the UK (see the Training page for more details)
- Leading the process of developing multi-agency diagnostic pathways and procedures in 2 counties and extensive involvement in diagnostic assessment (including a formal responsibility for ‘second opinion’ diagnostic assessments where teams have been unable to reach a clear conclusion).
Work is charged at the rate of GBP 65 per hour (plus travelling expenses at 55p per mile), but some negotiation is possible, particularly in the case of more complex assessments. The likely time required for a particular piece of work is discussed and agreed beforehand. There is no charge for initial discussions and any review of existing paperwork, prior to agreeing my involvement. Where travelling will take longer than 1.5 hours per day there is a charge of GBP 20 per hour beyond the first 1.5 hours)
How much education—what sort of psychology: a critique of the objectives approach to the education of slow learners. (1988) Educational Psychology in Practice, 3,4, 11-16
Canadians caught in the act: Formal assessment in Canada—significant differences, shared dilemmas and the role of the school psychologist. (1992) Educational Psychology in Practice, 8,1, 3-9
Mainstream students talk about integration. (1994) British Journal of Special Education, 21,1, 13-16
Working with challenging behaviour. (1996) Lucky Duck Publishing. (co-author)
Children with autism and peer group support: using ‘circles of friends’. (1998) British Journal of Special Education 25, 2, 60-64
Autism: How to help your young child. (1998) London: National Autistic Society. (co-author)
Asperger syndrome—practical strategies for the classroom. (1998) London: National Autistic Society (co-author)
Autism and challenging behaviour: making sense—making progress (a guide to preventing and managing challenging behaviour for parents and teachers). (2001) London: National Autistic Society.
Supporting families of pre-school children with autism: what parents want and what helps. (2002) Autism 6, 4, 411-426
Fostering communication and shared play between mainstream peers and children with autism: approaches, outcomes and experiences. (2004) British Journal of Special Education 31, 4, 215-222
‘Why’s it so difficult?’ Sharing the diagnosis with the young person. (2006) In D. Murray Coming out Asperger: diagnosis, disclosure and self-confidence. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Provision for youngsters with autistic spectrum disorders in mainstream school; what parents say—and what parents want. (2007) British Journal of Special Education 34, 3, 170-178
As you may well be aware, there are still no medical tests for a diagnosis of autism (or autistic) spectrum disorder. When a professional is trying to decide if a youngster is on the spectrum, he or she is looking for particular types and degrees of difficulty, and for particular patterns of development in each of these areas of development: social interaction; social communication; flexibility of thinking and behaviour. The first 2 of these 3 areas of development are very closely intertwined and are now treated as a single aspect of the diagnostic criteria (after the most recent revision to the DSM system. To get a comprehensive and reliable picture, you need information from a range of sources. Guidelines published by NICE (the National Institute of Clinical Excellence) in 2011 give recommendations about the content of the assessment. You can see these for yourself by clicking on this link: (http://guidance.nice.org.uk/CG128/QuickRefGuide/pdf/English). As you’ll see, the core ingredients recommended by NICE include:
- Detailed questions about the parent’s concerns
- A detailed developmental history, preferably using ‘an autism-specific’ tool to gather this information
- Direct observation and assessment of specific social skills, communication skills and behaviours, consistent with ICD 10 and DSM5 criteria (the official diagnostic criteria). Again, it recommends the use of a recognized autism-specific assessment tool
Often it is extremely helpful to have observations from other settings, and information from other sources (particularly the youngster’s school or nursery). The NICE guidelines also recommend that a doctor (typically a Paediatrician) takes a medical history and carries out a physical examination. Although ASD cannot be medically diagnosed, this is to check if the youngster has other physical conditions relevant to the diagnosis.
I am able to offer diagnostic assessments that are in full accordance with these core ingredients:
- I am qualified and experienced in the use of the Autism Diagnostic Interview (Revised). The ADI (R) is often referred to as one of the ‘gold standard’ assessment instruments and is widely used in research. I am also qualified in the use of the Diagnostic Instrument for Social and Communication Disorders (DISCO) and the Developmental, Dimensional and Diagnostic Interview (3Di).
- I am trained and experienced in the use of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule 2 (ADOS). This is a battery of play based activities, tasks and discussion topics, with specific modules selected according to the language skills of the child. It is commonly used alongside the ADI-R and, again, is seen as one of the ‘gold standard’ assessment tools.
- I have considerable experience of observing youngsters in their home and educational settings, where subtle (and sometimes not so subtle!) signs of possible ASD are apparent. This is particularly important where it is necessary to get a clearer view of a child’s interactions with peers.
In my experience, it can also be useful to seek information from staff in the child’s school or nursery—and I will always try to liaise with other involved professionals, if possible. In addition, I would always recommend that parents also seek the involvement of a paediatrician, but in most instances a sound diagnostic conclusion can be reached on the basis of assessments and observations that I’ve described above.
The different components of the assessment do not need to all take place at one time or in one setting. Practical arrangements can be tailored to suit your and your child’s needs. The first step would always consist of discussing your concerns and getting key information about your child and any previous assessments. I can then plan the separate components of the assessment and give you a clearer picture of the likely time and costs involved. Once completed, the findings of the assessment, its conclusions and any suggestions for further action will be provided in writing. Please contact me on email@example.com If you would like to see and hear more about the process of diagnosis and what it may mean for you and your child, you can view the podcasts below on You Tube by just clicking the links. I produced these for parents of newly diagnosed children with the aim of answering many of the questions that parents often raise in the weeks following their child’s assessment.
After diagnosis 1—making sense of ASD http://youtu.be/CMuztO0DA8Q
After diagnosis 2—understanding your child http://youtu.be/WEWe9UPxIJM
The diagnosis is really just the beginning of the process of understanding a child’s or young person’s needs. The diagnosis acts as a valuable signpost to those aspects of the youngster’s development that may need more detailed assessment–and it provides broad pointers to the types of help and provision a child may need. However, effective intervention can only be built on a comprehensive and detailed assessment of the youngster’s individual needs. This should provide the information needed to set appropriate targets across all the key areas of functioning. It should also provide a detailed profile of the child’s learning style, strengths and difficulties. Without this, it can be difficult or impossible, to develop and use appropriate teaching and support stragegies. In turn, all this information is needed before taking crucial decisions about the type of school and the level and nature of support necessary to meet the child’s needs.
For the last 17 years, my specialist role has meant that I have been responsible for carrying out assessments on some of the most complex and needy youngsters. I am able to draw from a wide range of assessment tools and frameworks, and am known for producing reports that are both comprehensive and (just as importantly) comprehensible. My overiding aim is always to help those who live and work with a child make sense of his or her needs, and to provide practical strategies and directions for promoting the youngster’s development.
These reports can be shared with school staff and other Local Authority or Health Service staff who are involved with your child. If your child is undergoing statutory assessment, they can also be submitted as part of the information that you’re asked for during the statementing process. Independent reports like these are often submitted as evidence when parents are unhappy with proposed EHC Plans and take their case to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal.