The roles of professionals pages contain information about the nature of the work of  professionals who work with people with autism and their families.

Additional support needs auxiliary

Additional support needs auxiliaries work with individual and small groups of pupils who have additional support needs within mainstream or specialist bases in classes and in out-of-class activities. They provide support for pupils to achieve targets (all areas of the curriculum) as set by the class teacher. They also assist pupils to carry out Individual Educational Plans developed in conjunction with teachers and therapists and contribute to annual review procedures for children. Their responsibility is also to attend to the personal care needs of pupils, accompany them on educational visits and assist the teacher with preparation of classroom materials.

Advocacy worker

An advocacy worker acts on behalf of another using their specialist knowledge and understanding of how agencies and systems operate in order to try and achieve the best outcome for the individual they are representing. The advocacy worker is there solely for the individual – to make sure their voice is heard. The advocacy worker just states the client’s views, but doesn’t make decisions about the person.


Audiologists are health-care professionals specialising in identifying, diagnosing, treating and monitoring hearing or balance problems. They dispense hearing aids and recommend implants. They counsel families through a new diagnosis of hearing loss in infants, and help teach coping and compensation skills to late-deafened adults. They also help design and implement personal hearing safety programs, new-born hearing screening programs, school hearing screening programs, and provide special fitting ear plugs and other hearing protection devices to help prevent hearing loss.


Auxiliaries assist a particular individual or body with or in their/its function. This usually regards working under the direction of another. For example, auxiliary nursing staff work alongside medical staff to undertake personal care duties.

Care assistants – adults

Care assistants work with vulnerable individuals to help them live their lives to the full. These can be people who, perhaps through illness, a physical or learning disability or a mental health problem, need support to cope within their own home. Depending on the client’s needs and ability, home care assistants enable their clients to do day-to-day tasks such as washing, getting dressed, shopping and preparing meals. They also provide social and emotional care.

Care assistants – children

Care assistants provide basic personal care and social care to children and young people in a number of settings, including special schools, day centres and residential homes. They support children and young people with practical everyday tasks, as well as encouraging their personal and social development. Care assistants may work in residential homes for children or the elderly, special schools, day centres or non-emergency ambulance services.

Care manager

Care mangers assess, organise and review the total care required for an individual. They can work for the local social services or the health authority. They plan and coordinate care of the elderly and people with physical and/or mental impairments to meet their long term care needs, improve their quality of life, and maintain their independence for as long as possible. It entails working with families in managing, rendering and referring various types of health and social care services. Care managers accomplish this by combining a working knowledge of health and psychology, human development, family dynamics, public and private resources and funding sources, while advocating for their clients throughout the continuum of care.

NB This is a generic term and the decisions are normally made by more than one individual.

Careers adviser

Career advisers provide advice, suggestions and direction with regard to career pathways and options to students (including qualifications required and other possible access routes). They assess one’s abilities, interests and achievements, find learning and work opportunities for them, use careers information and resources, make decisions that suit their life and their circumstances, look at available training and work options and make a plan of action for achieving their aims, and give them support as they carry it out. Careers advisers often work within educational establishments and regularly liaise with other agencies.

Child and adolescent psychiatrist

Child and adolescent psychiatrists are doctors who have expertise in relation to developmental conditions such as ASD and also psychiatric conditions. They seek to understand how these disorders can affect behaviour, emotional adjustments and social relationships. Some child and adolescent psychiatrists can also diagnose an ASD, particularly if it is at the higher functioning end of the spectrum. They are also expert in the use of medication for children with developmental disorders. Like other healthcare professionals they can refer one to a relevant diagnostician if they suspect an ASD assessment may be relevant.

Children’s Panel

The Children’s Panel consists of a group of volunteer members of the public carefully selected and appointed by the Children’s Panel Advisory Committee (CPAC) for the local authority area. The panel’s role is to hear cases involving children referred to the Children’s Hearings system. The panel consider information submitted to them surrounding a child who is considered to be vulnerable or at risk referred on by the Children’s Reporter. They then seek to decide on the best course of action for the child, given the circumstances and options available. The Children’s Panel is recognised as a statutory tribunal under the Tribunal and Enquiries Act 1992.

A Children’s Hearing is part of the legal and welfare systems in Scotland; it aims to combine justice and welfare for children and young people. The Children’s Hearing is carried out by three specially trained lay tribunal members of the Children’s Panel, a Children’s Reporter, child and legal guardian and a representative of the local social work department. Since 15 April 1971 Children’s Hearings have been making decisions about local children and young people who commit offences or who are in need of care and protection. Further information on the Children’s Hearing System is available here.

Children’s Reporter

The Children’s Reporter looks at information surrounding children considered to be at risk or vulnerable (for example have unfavourable domestic circumstances) and make the decision as to whether the child’s situation should be referred on to the Children’s Panel, for a formal Children’s Hearing.

The Children’s Reporter takes no part in the decision making process of a Children’s Hearing. A change to the role was introduced in September 2009 and the Reporter is able to make representations if the Panel is at risk of making a decision which is not, in the Reporter’s view, competent or procedurally correct. The Reporter is responsible for the administration of the Hearing and also represents the decisions of hearings in a court setting when grounds of referral are disputed or the child is too young to express a view on the grounds for referral. There is a separate panel for each local authority area.

Children’s rights worker

Children’s rights worker acts on behalf of children who are recognised by local authorities to be vulnerable or at risk (known as ‘looked after’) to ensure their rights are upheld and that they are able to access services they are in need of and are entitled to. They also provide unbiased advice, support and advocacy to children and young people with regard to their rights. Children’s rights worker role is also to ensure that children and young people are supported to be heard and can contribute to decision making that affects their lives. They are also responsible for highlighting issues of policy and practice to the various departments and agencies, which provide services to children and young people.

Classroom assistant

A classroom assistant (sometimes a teaching assistant or educational assistant – often abbreviated to TA or EA) is a person who supports a teacher in the classroom. Classroom assistant helps the classroom teacher with the preparation and action of teaching activities and works alongside pupils to facilitate their learning. Classroom assistants are often used to take small groups of children out of a class that need extra support in an area, such as literacy or numeracy. This can also include working with children with additional support needs (ASN). Helping teachers prepare for lessons by photocopying resources, or putting out equipment at the start of a lesson is another main role of the classroom assistant.

Clinical psychologist

Clinical psychologists are experts in the natural development of learning, behaviour, emotional adjustments and social relationships. Some clinical psychologists are particularly expert in understanding the nature and impact of development disorders, such as autism spectrum disorders. They conduct interviews and psychological tests and may conduct treatment programmes, sometimes in conjunction with physicians or other specialists. They may also provide counselling and support to carers. Clinical psychologists work in hospitals, health centres, community mental health teams, child and adolescent mental health services and social services. Some also work in private practices.

Community nurse

Community nurses are also known as health visitors. They are registered nurses who work in the community – in people’s homes, schools and local surgeries and health centres. The people they work with may be ill or disabled. Community nurses also look after people whose health may be particularly vulnerable, such as older people, children, or people with learning disabilities. They visit patients at home to provide health care – for example, changing dressings or giving injections. They can also help people get any home nursing aids and equipment they need.

Community nurses can provide help and advice on a wide range of health issues. They may also teach families and carers basic caregiving skills. Community nurses work closely with GPs, local social services and hospitals. Your GP can refer you to a community nursing service. If you are leaving hospital, the hospital may arrange for a community nurse to visit you regularly as part of your ‘continuing care’ arrangements.

Community psychiatric nurse (CPN)

In the United Kingdom a community psychiatric nurse is a psychiatric nurse based in the community rather than a psychiatric hospital. Community psychiatric nurses form an integral part of community mental health teams. They are often patients’ key workers within the NHS mental health system and they often provide further referrals to psychiatrists, psychotherapists and other mental health professionals. Community psychiatric nurses mainly visit people in their own homes but they also see people in other settings such as GP surgeries or the community mental health team base. Community psychiatric nurses are fully trained psychiatric nurses who have several years’ experience working in a psychiatric hospital or ward. Community psychiatric nurses can give advice in relation to mental health problems and associated medication. They can also advise on lifestyle adaptations and provide practical tips on managing mental health.


In the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, and parts of the Commonwealth, consultant is the title of a senior physician who has completed all of their specialist training and has been placed on the specialist register in their chosen speciality. Consultants have ultimate responsibility for the care of all the patients referred to them and heading a team of doctors, so the job carries significant personal responsibility.

Continence adviser

Continence adviser provides information, advice and support in order to promote continence and the management of urinary and faecal problems/incontinence. Continence adviser may also supply continence aids and provide education for carers and professionals. Continence advisers work within continence advisory services alongside clinical nurse specialists, continence nurses, associate practitioners and healthcare support workers.


A member of the council who is employed by a local government council, such as a city council to have an appreciation of, take forward, and voice the interests of area constituents in political matters.


Counsellors are trained professionals who help people explore feelings and emotions that are often related to their experiences. This allows their clients to reflect on what is happening to them and consider alternative ways of doing things. Working in a confidential setting, counsellors listen attentively to their clients and offer them the time, empathy and respect they need to express their feelings and perhaps understand themselves from a different perspective. The aim of counselling is to reduce confusion and enable patients to cope with challenges or to make positive changes in their lives where necessary. Counsellors do not give advice, but help clients make their own choices within the framework of an agreed counselling contract. As understanding of autism increases there is a greater appreciation of the need to adapt counselling approaches for people on the spectrum.


Dieticians are experts in food and nutrition. They advise people on what to eat in order to lead a healthy lifestyle or achieve a specific health-related goal. Dieticians also make recommendations on specialist diets and feeding. They may be able to help with the active planning and implementation of diets and nutritional adaptations relevant to autism or other conditions. Dieticians work in various capacities in the field of healthcare, foodservice, corporate setting, and educational arenas.

Disability employment adviser (DEA)

Disability employment advisor, usually employed by Jobcentre Plus, seeks to help individuals with a health condition or disability find work, gain new skills or navigate barriers which make finding and keeping, work problematic. They can also advise on benefit entitlement and refer to other agencies for support.

Disability employment advisers can offer an employment assessment to identify what type of work or training suits one best, appropriate job-matching and referral service to work programmes for disabled people or to a work psychologist for a more detailed employment assessment.

Your local Jobcentre Plus can put you in touch with one of their Disability Employment Advisers, who can also provide you with information on employers in your area who have adopted the ‘positive about disabled people’ symbol (with 2 ticks).

District nurse

District nurses are senior nurses who manage care within the community, leading teams of community nurses and support workers, as well as visiting house-bound patients to provide advice and care such as palliative care or medication support. District nurses are able to prescribe medication to patients in a similar way to General Practitioner doctors, depending on individual qualifications. They may be trained to assess patient’s needs for equipment provision such as mobility and independent living aids, medical equipment such as specialist beds and mattresses, as well as guidance in applying for grants and welfare benefits. Their work involves both follow-up care for recently discharged hospital inpatients and longer term care for chronically ill patients who may be referred by many other services, as well as working collaboratively with general practitioners in preventing unnecessary or avoidable hospital admissions. As well as providing treatment and practical nursing care, district nurses advise patients and their families on health care and the prevention of illness.

Educational psychologist (EP)

Educational psychologists are employed by education authorities who have a duty to provide a psychological service. They work with children and young people in mainstream and additional support needs sectors across the spectrum of education, behaviour and development issues. They have five core functions: consultation, assessment, intervention, training and research. They can advise and make recommendations about schools and specialist support required for the child. They can also offer advice to schools and parents on all aspects of learning and behaviour and often co-ordinate the work of multi-disciplinary team around the needs of the individual child.

General practitioner (GP)

A general practitioner (GP) is a medical practitioner who treats acute and chronic illnesses and provides preventive care and health education for all ages and all sexes. They have particular skills in treating people with multiple health issues and comorbidities.

GPs are responsible for the general health of people with autism and Asperger’s syndrome but they do not usually give a diagnosis nor do they offer specialist advice or treatment. However, they will be able to refer for diagnosis.


A geneticist is a biologist who studies genetics, the science of genes, heredity, and variation of organisms. A geneticist can be employed as a researcher or lecturer. Some geneticists perform experiments and analyse data to interpret the inheritance of skills. A geneticist is also a Consultant or Medical Doctor who has been trained in genetics as a specialisation. They evaluate, diagnose, and manage patients with genetic conditions as well as refer them to other medical specialists such as genetic counsellors who can provide information about the likelihood of a genetic condition occurring in a family and about the medical management of the relevant condition.

Health visitor

A health visitor is a registered nurse who is specially trained to assess the health needs of individuals, families and communities and aims to promote mental and physical health in the community by offering practical help and advice. Health visitors provide support and information to families from the birth of a child until they start school. Their activities may include visiting a newborn baby at home, assessing a child’s development, and involvement in parenting. Concerns about development may be raised first with, or by, a health visitor during a routine assessment in the home or clinic. This may lead to a referral to other professionals who have expertise in children’s development disorders. A health visitor can be based at a GP’s surgery or can work over a geographical area visiting homes and schools.

Housing mediator (ASL)

An additional support for learning (ASL) mediator assists individuals with additional support needs in negotiating and navigating housing related difficulties, e.g. working as an intermediary where non-payment of rent has occurred, where the landlord has failed to provide adequate housing maintenance or where disputes or disagreements have occurred with fellow tenants or neighbours.

Key worker

A key worker maintains regular contact with the relevant family and is often the first ‘port of call’ for advice or information. Key workers are responsible for ensuring that information about the child is shared efficiently with everyone who is working with the family. Those defined as key workers can include National Health Service staff, teachers and nursery nurses, social workers or educational psychologists.

Learning disability nurse

Nurses who qualify in this branch of nursing help those with learning disabilities to live independent and fulfilling lives. This may involve working with people in supported accommodation or with individuals who require more intensive support. Some specialise in areas such as epilepsy management or working with people with sensory impairment. Learning disability nurses aim to improve the well-being and social inclusion of people with a learning disability by improving or maintaining their physical and mental health, reducing barriers and supporting the person to pursue a fulfilling life.

Local Area Co-ordinator (LAC)

Local Area Co-ordination is based on a vision of a society where disabled people and their carers are valued as full and equal members of the community. Local Area Co-ordinators implement this vision by working alongside communities, supporting them to become more welcoming and inclusive, working with individuals and their families to help them become more confident and supporting them to achieve their dreams and build independent lives. Local Area Co-ordination was introduced in Scotland as a recommendation in ‘The same as you?’ review of learning disability services in 2000.

When an individual wants to change or develop something in their life the local area co-ordinator can work with them in an individualised and person-centred way to identify strategies and support. They can also advocate and negotiate access to services where needed. They will therefore need to liaise closely with social workers and others, e.g. if they identify an unmet need for a short break.

To see the full list of LAC’s in Scotland, click here.


A doctor who specialises in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of nervous disorders, including diseases of the brain, spinal column, nerves and muscles. Current thinking is that autism and other pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs) involve neurological differences that account for the syndrome.


A professional specialising in both neurology and psychology who is knowledgeable about brain structure, chemistry, and processing and how these impact human psychology and behaviour; a brain-behaviour specialist.

Nursery assistant

Nursery assistants work alongside and usually under the supervision of qualified nursery nurses. They often work alongside hospital play staff as well. Nursery assistants will assist nursery nurses in most aspects of their work (see the term: nursery nurse), ensuring that the children in their care remain safe, happy and stimulated.

Nursery nurse

Nursery nurses provide care for children up to the age of five years. They work primarily with young patients, although some are employed in nurseries looking after children of NHS staff. The work of nursery nurses typically includes providing physical, emotional and spiritual care to children, coordinating play for them in a range of settings and supporting carers in the parenting of their children. Other responsibility of a nursery nurse is to develop play as a means of communicating information to children, to distract them during unpleasant procedures and to maintain their stage of development during illness or stress. They also maintain the environment in a child friendly manner as well as toys and play equipment. Their role is to find ways to stimulate children particularly those with additional support and sensory needs. They collaborate with members of multidisciplinary agencies within and outside of the NHS organisation they work for.

Occupational therapist (OT)

An occupational therapist is a qualified health professional, who uses specific activities to help people who have a disability, physical or mental health problems to minimise the effects of their disability and to achieve maximum independence in their everyday lives.

It is their job to assess a person’s skills and difficulties, organise a programme of treatment and review their progress. They may also be involved in the provision of appropriate aids and adaptations to buildings to enhance quality of life for people with disabilities.

Occupational therapists can work in a number of different settings: in hospitals working for the NHS and out in the community working for the social services departments of local authorities. They are also employed in schools, prisons, community services, GP Practices, health and day care centres and residential homes.


An ophthalmologist is a doctor based in a hospital who specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of eye defects and diseases. They have special qualifications and experience in eye disorders and in treating them with appropriate medicine and surgery.


Orthoptist works with individuals who have vision problems, abnormal eye movements and can check for squints. The work involves seeing patients of all ages from infants to the elderly. Orthoptist usually works in close cooperation with ophthalmologists, paediatricians, and sometimes neurologists.


Paediatrician is a physician who deals with the growth, development and the health of children, from birth to adolescence. Some paediatricians specialise in particular diseases or developmental disorders such as ASD. They should know when and how to refer children to other specialists. They can often be called upon to diagnose an ASD, especially in younger children. They can work from a hospital setting or out in the community.

Parent Liaison Officer

A Parent Liaison Officer can be contacted if parents have raised concerns with class teachers and support for learning teachers/or head teachers and feel that these concerns are still an issue.

Peripatetic Teacher

Teacher who is not based in one particular school but instead works in more than one establishment. Usually teaches in a particular field, such as visual impairment.


Physiotherapists help and treat people of all ages with physical problems caused by illness, accident or ageing. Physiotherapy is a healthcare profession which sees human movement as central to the health and well-being of individuals. Physiotherapists identify and maximise movement potential through health promotion, preventive healthcare, treatment and rehabilitation. Using exercise and movement a physiotherapist will help the individual relieve pain, increase mobility and gain as much independence as possible. Physiotherapists can also give advice, for example, on lifting individuals correctly.


Psychiatrist is a physician who specializes in psychiatry and is trained in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders and behaviour. Psychiatrists are authorized to prescribe medicine, conduct physical examinations, order and interpret laboratory tests. Psychiatrists usually work within one of the following specialties: general psychiatry; psychiatry of learning difficulties; forensic psychiatry; psychiatry of old age; psychotherapy and child and adolescent psychiatry. Most psychiatrists work for the NHS in a range of settings, such as hospitals, clinics, day centres, community homes and patients’ homes. To see a psychiatrist, patients must be referred by their GP.


Researcher is an individual who performs research, the search for knowledge or in general any systematic investigation to establish facts. Researchers study an area of interest, or relevance, in order that knowledge and understanding of it can be established, increased and enhanced. Much research has been focused on the causes of autism but no one cause has been established. Researchers can work in academic, industrial, government, or private institutions.

Social worker

Social work is a professional and academic discipline that seeks to improve the quality of life and wellbeing of an individual, group, or community by intervening through research, policy, community organising, direct practice, and teaching on behalf of those afflicted with poverty or any real or perceived social injustices and violations of their human rights.

Social workers help, support and protect people who are vulnerable or at risk, or have social or emotional problems. They are office based and visit clients in the community to offer advice, practical assistance and emotional support with social and financial problems. Social workers carry out assessments and help to obtain local services such as short breaks.

Specialist practitioner health visitor

Specialist practitioner health visitor provides evidence based family centred public health service that focuses on identifying health needs and vulnerability within the family and community. Nurses in this role focus on prevention and early detection of ill health and the promotion of a healthy lifestyle. They also assess the needs of individuals, families, communities and populations, plan and evaluate care. Their responsibility is to safely delegate care as appropriate and supervise accordingly as well as work collaboratively across organisations and sectors in order to implement local and national strategies. Specialist practitioner health visitors identify vulnerable adults and children and introduce early interventions and strategies and actively promote the health of the pre-school age child and their families by leading on child health surveillance and referring onwards when necessary.

Speech and language therapist (SLT)

Speech and language therapists assess, treat and help prevent language, communication and swallowing problems. They work with people of all ages but often specialise in working with a particular group, such as with children, adults or in clinical areas. They also play an important role in the diagnosis and assessment of autistic spectrum disorders in young children.

They work with patients either on a one-to-one basis or in groups, perhaps in conjunction with a physiotherapist or a teacher. Families, carers and teachers are often involved in treatment by speech and language therapists. An important part of a SLT’s role is to provide advice and training to other professionals, such as teachers, care staff, and patients’ families on how they can contribute to the delivery of therapy.

Speech and language therapists mostly work for the NHS in a number of different settings, including health centres, hospital clinics and additional support needs schools. However, some are employed directly by schools, voluntary organisations, GP practices, education and social work departments and various other organisations such as homes for people with learning difficulties or the elderly.

Support worker

Support worker’s role involves working with vulnerable people in different ways. They help people who have mental health problems, learning difficulties, disabilities or those who are recovering addicts or young offenders. They can help with a range of day-to-day things such as managing money, going out, helping in the house or assisting with respite breaks. They also provide emotional support to get their clients through a difficult time.


Teacher (schoolteacher) is a person who provides education for pupils (children) and students (adults). The role of the teacher is often formal and ongoing, carried out at a school or other place of formal education.

Tribunal staff (ASL)

Additional support for learning (ASL) staff work with people with additional support needs to support and assist them in the tribunal process. This may involve explaining the nature of the tribunal process to them in an appropriate manner as well as assisting them with the proceedings.

Welfare rights officer

Welfare rights officers, also known as welfare benefits advisers or advice workers, provide information and advice to the public about welfare benefits and other areas which could include housing, employment rights as well as debt and money problems. They may also assist with bureaucratic processes such application procedures. Welfare rights officers work for various agencies.

Youth worker

Youth workers promote the personal, educational and social development of young adults – usually in their teenage years. Youth workers provide a range of supports from event organisation, teaching, counselling, advising and encouraging to more general interaction and mentoring. Programmes aim to engage young people, address inequalities, value opinions and empower individuals to take action on issues affecting their lives, including health, education, unemployment and the environment, by developing positive skills and attitudes.

Youth workers respond to the needs and interests of young people and work in a range of environments: youth centres, schools, colleges, faith-based groups and Youth Offending Services. Methods include supporting recreational activities, providing advice and counselling, sometimes in an outreach setting.