Case study HK (Building Capacity and Anxiety)

HK is a 14-year-old boy with a diagnosis of autism, the impact of which, often influences high levels of anxiety. In addition, he had a previous prolonged absence from school due to concerns regarding his overall wellbeing. On return to school, he received discrete teaching and learning support on a one to one basis within the learning support base.

HK currently attends a Post Primary grammar school where he is studying for his GCSEs. When he is calm and regulated he is keen to engage in learning.

In the past, his anxiety levels have impacted greatly on his ability to attend school, participate in the academic and social element of his school placement and to maintain positive mental health. This cycle diminished his levels of independence, increased the strain on family life and created a high dependency on his mother.

He is an articulate boy who has a small group of friends in school who provide support and reassurance for him. HK has a keen interest in animals and has pets. He enjoys spending time caring for his pets and often uses this passion as an emotional regulation tool to help with his anxiety.


The primary concerns raised by school staff included their capacity:

  • As a school, to understand and manage the high anxiety levels which HK presented with and which were creating a barrier to learning and achievement.
  • To understand and link the impact of autism and anxiety on HK’s behaviour and to manage the risks associated with that behaviour in a school learning environment.
  • To support HK’s overall well-being and contribute to improving his mental health.

 Capacity Building Strategies

The support provided by the Middletown Centre for Autism sought to build the capacity of this school in relation to the concerns which they raised.

  • The school engaged in a top down model of support whereby the Senior Management Team (SMT) within the school were actively engaged in supporting the SEN department to affect change. For further reading, The Irregular School: Exclusion, Schooling and Inclusive Education.
  • The school also engaged in several new initiatives to ensure a coordinated support approach. The SMT established a core group of senior staff to create a team around the pupil, to deliver a consistent coordinated approach across the school day. Working groups were also established between key departments; the SEN department and the IT Department collaborated to support SEN strategies which involved the use of technology or the use of Apps or programmes e.g. Take Ten.
  • The Senior Management Team availed of training in risk assessment to enable them to effectively manage the behaviours which posed a risk to HK and/or others in the school community. Behaviours such as self-harm, negative self-talk and flight responses which were directly linked to increased anxiety levels were identified and a risk assessment and risk management plan was put in place. This provided both school staff and parents with clear protocols on how these risks could be controlled within the school environment. Read current Risk Assessment documents – Risk Assessment CCMS and Regional Policy Framework on the use of Reasonable Force and Safe Handling. Whole school training took place on the topic of autism and anxiety, to foster a greater understanding of this area amongst the teaching and non-teaching staff within the school. This in turn impacted on the supports HK received from all staff across the school to reduce anxiety and to manage crisis situations as they arose.
  • Parent training was also hosted within the school in relation to autism and anxiety. This training was facilitated by the Middletown Centre for Autism. To view training provided by Middletown Centre for Autism please click here. This training was promoted by the SEN team through the local Learning Community.
  • The learning support staff were upskilled in a range of strategies which were then implemented by the SEN team across the school environment. This also extended beyond school to facilitate greater access to off-site curricular activities.
  • Breathing techniques
  • Take Ten
  • 5 Point Scale
  • Physical activity programme – Click here to read further
  • Quiet Room
  • Emotional regulation tools e.g. theraputty, chewing gum, furb ball
  • Using technology e.g. google images, listening to music etc.