Looked-after children on the Autism Spectrum: Pathways, provisions and perspectives.

Jen Pickles
Doctorate in Educational Psychology

Jen Pickles

Previous research, as well as statistics produced by the UK government, highlights how children who are looked-after are less likely to make academic progress when compared to children who are not in care. These outcomes become more concerning when looked-after children also have a statement of SEN or an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), with only 5% of children meeting the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics at Key Stage 2.

My project aims to explore the experience of those pupils who have an EHCP, are looked-after, and have a diagnosis of autism. The implications of an autism diagnosis will vary across students, however guidance highlights the importance of collaboration between staff, caregivers, and professionals to support individualised planning for the pupil (Bond, Symes, Hebron, Humphrey & Morewood, 2016).  However a recent review of Freedom of Information requests based on responses from 147 local authorities in England highlighted inconsistencies in the sharing of information about autism diagnoses and revealed that the majority of local authorities do not routinely report on the diagnostic status of autistic looked-after children at a strategic level (Parsons, McCullen, Emery & Kovshoff, 2018), suggesting that at the most strategic planning levels for autism support the guidance is not being followed, which may further disadvantage pupils within this demographic.

The main aim of the study is to explore what information is gathered about looked-after autistic pupils and how this information is shared at a strategic level.  It also considers the possible impact this has on students.  To investigate this, a number of questions will be considered.

  1. What are the experiences of Virtual School Heads and Designated Teachers in providing autism related support for looked-after children within their local authority?
  2. What are the views and experiences of autistic looked-after children receiving educational support?
  3. How is information relating to an autism diagnosis and support planning shared with schools?
  4. What can be learned about best practice and possible barriers in supporting looked-after autistic children?

I will explore this through a qualitative approach, interviewing Virtual School Heads, Designated Teachers, and looked-after students who have received a diagnosis of autism. This research will contribute a rich and detailed understanding of the experience of these key-stakeholders and will highlight possible barriers to effective provision and consider areas of best practice when it comes to supporting the education of these students.

Processes for local authorities recording and monitoring autism spectrum diagnoses within the looked-after children population.

Jessica Keevash
MSc Research Methods in Psychology

As part of my Masters, I will be completing a dissertation to extend the work carried out by Parsons, McCullen, Emery and Kovshoff (2018) which investigated the processes local authorities implement to report on the diagnosis status of Looked-After Children with autism at a strategic level.

The aim of the research is to uncover what the challenges are when reporting this diagnosis, as well as the implications for not reporting the diagnosis. This will be carried out using qualitative research methods to interview relevant professionals within a variety of education settings, and the local authority to establish how a diagnosis of ASD is shared between these different settings for Looked-After Children, with the child themselves, and with their family.

I will be using a qualitative approach to gain a deeper understanding of what is happening for these professionals involved in the care of Looked-After Children with a diagnosis of autism. Through semi-structured interviews I hope to gain an understanding of the processes involved at an education level, right up through to the local authority, with the potential to involve professionals from health as well.

The project will run until the summer holidays 2019, with the final write-up to be completed in September 2019, ready for submission. This project is supervised by Professor Sarah Parsons and Dr Hanna Kovshoff.

How do schools and stakeholders take in the viewpoints and opinions of pupils with autism, and how do the schools respond to them?

Ankita Gurung
Masters in Education

I am Ankita Gurung currently studying a Masters in Education at the University of Southampton. For my final project I am exploring how schools understand the views of pupils on the autism spectrum about their educational experiences, with the supervision of Sarah Parsons.

In 2015, the Department for Education / Department of Health in their SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability) Code of Practice stated that Local Authorities ‘must have regard to the views, wishes and feelings of the child [or pupil]’ with the disability. However, as research has shown, for many autistic pupils, difficulties with ‘social communication and interaction skills’ often leave practitioners, and researchers, with the challenge of finding methods of understanding children and young people’s views and opinions about their educational experiences.

This study will be an exploration into how schools and stakeholders access the viewpoints and opinions of these pupils, and in turn how the schools respond to them. Therefore, the following research questions will be addressed in the study:

1.    What methods do schools use in order to explore the views of autistic pupils about their educational provision and experiences?

2.      What types of things are being asked about autistic pupils’ educational provision and experiences?

Thus, the aim of this study is to explore and understand the methods that schools conduct in order to find out the views of autistic pupils about their educational experiences. This will take place by conducting semi-structured interviews with different school staff members that are partnered with the ACoRNS project.

Exploring transitions and resourced provision for children with Autism in a mainstream school: pupil and teacher perspectives.

Amber Warren
BSc Education and Psychology

My name is Amber Warren and I am currently carrying out my dissertation for my degree in BSc Education and Psychology titled Exploring transitions and resourced provision for children with Autism in a mainstream school: pupil and teacher perspectives.’

This project aims to find out what children with autism think about school, particularly how they feel about transitioning between a specialist resource base and their mainstream classroom. We want to discover which parts of the day are significant to the children, including the friendships they’ve formed and which parts they like and dislike.

The little research which exists in regards to specialist resource bases suggest that this ‘best of both worlds’ scenario within mainstream education is effective, however it has focused highly on teacher and parent’s perspectives and has not heard from the voice of pupils. Therefore this project will investigate from the perspective of the pupils and also their teachers who work closely alongside them during their day at school to create an overall picture of the pupil’s daily experiences with use of such provision.

I aim to explore these research questions:

What are the views and experiences of young pupils with autism about daily transitions between a specialist resource base and the further areas of their school?

What are the views and experiences of teachers about the transitions of young pupils with autism between a specialist resource base and the further areas of their school?

What do these views and experiences identify as the effective practices that support transitions and the practices that could be developed or improved further?

To do so, pupils from a primary school will create a project about their average day and I will then conduct interviews with these pupils and their teachers to understand overall thoughts and perspectives on the daily transitions which they engage in every day and how they feel about school. The pupils will have the opportunity to share their experiences to other pupils, teachers and parents outside of the specialist resource base through also presenting their project.

To what extent does an autistic child’s behaviour differ between school and home? Children, teacher and parents’ perspectives.

Ciara Boys
BSc Education and Psychology

I’m Ciara Boys, and I’m currently in my 3rd year studying BSc Education and Psychology at the University of Southampton. My dissertation is titled ‘To what extent does an autistic child’s behaviour differ between school and home? Children, teacher and parents’ perspectives’.

From research and practice, we know that children on the autism spectrum can sometimes ‘mask’ their feelings and have a ‘façade’ that may hide their learning needs, especially in the school environment. By contrast, parents have noted their children do not hide their feelings at home as this is considered their ‘safe place’. We wanted to explore this issue from the perspectives of teachers, parents and children. Specifically, my project will:

  • Study teachers’ and parents’ perspectives on autistic children’s behaviour and how this differs between different environments, particularly at home and at school;
  • Explore whether children’s and parents experiences and perceptions differ from year R to year 6; and
  • Investigate whether children are aware that their behaviour may change between home and school.

The study will be a qualitative case study design based at a Primary school in Southampton. Parents and teachers will participate in individual in-depth semi-structured interviews, and children will be observed in an unstructured manner in their classes school activities. Older children will also be asked about their experiences using a cue card activity.


The Participation of Children with Autism in Decision-Making: A Case Study of One School

Chantelle Zilli
Doctorate in Educational Psychology

Research has highlighted the importance of increasing the participation of children with autism in decision-making about school experiences, however there is little research on the practices that might help school staff to do this. This is a timely and relevant gap to address because there is more emphasis in schools to involve pupils in decision-making due to national policy changes which prioritise the full participation of children and families in decisions that affect their lives.

The aim of this research is to do a case study of one school, in order to understand the practices that help pupils with autism to participate in decisions about their school experiences. The pupils at this particular school fit the purpose of the research because they are pupils who are most likely to be marginalized from decision-making processes according to the literature – pupils with autism and pupils who have had unsuccessful mainstream placements. This project is supervised by Dr Hanna Kovshoff and Professor Sarah Parsons.

We aim to collect multiple sources of evidence to provide a rich, detailed picture of how pupils with autism participate in decision-making at the case school. This will include the perspectives of a focal group of children with autism, their parents and teachers who work closely with them, to understand these pupils’ experiences of participation in decision-making. The pupils will also be observed in a range of decision-making contexts such as the classroom, school council meetings and pupil behaviour plan reviews. The objective is to provide new knowledge about pupil participation that will promote greater understanding amongst education practitioners of the factors enabling pupils with autism to participate in decision-making as well as generate improvements to school practice.

You can read in detail about the project’s findings here.

Managing Educational Transition for Students with Autism from Preschool to Primary Education

Sarah Galea

MSc Education Management and Leadership

I am Sarah Galea, a student at the University of Southampton studying a Masters degree in Education Management and Leadership. In partial fulfilment of the course, I am carrying out a dissertation titled, ‘Managing educational transition for students with autism from pre-school to primary education’, supervised by Professor Sarah Parsons.

This study aims to investigate how sending and receiving schools manage the vital transition process and planning for students with autism.

To explore this phenomenon, three research questions were developed:

  1. What strategies do sending and receiving schools use during the transition planning and process?
  2. What similarities and differences are there in such strategies between different schools?
  3. What classifies as a good transition by the schools?

The study has been approved by the University Ethics and Research Governance Committee, and is currently in the process of collecting data.  Due to lack of literature on the transition process with relation to students with ASD, more specifically from an educational management perspective, the results from the study will provide a better insight on the phenomenon.  Additionally, as the study is part of ACoRNS, the results will help practitioners answer their queries on the transition, which in turn will help the students themselves experience a smoother transition.

You can read in detail about the project’s findings here.

The voices and experiences of children with autism, and their families, in their transitions from nursery to primary school

Sarah Parsons, Hanna Kovshoff, Kathryn Ivil, Gareth Shaw, Efstathia Karakosta

Young children with autism are amongst the most scrutinised and assessed in their everyday lives, often leading to characterisations and descriptions that focus on their difficulties (commonly termed ‘deficits’) and challenges rather than on their abilities, strengths and positive experiences. Consequently, much discussion about children with autism tends to forget that they are children first. While research has considered the transitions of children with autism from primary to secondary school, and from secondary to post-compulsory contexts, there is almost no research focusing on transitions for young children with autism from nursery to primary schools. There is also very limited representation of their voices and experiences being explored, promoted, and valued directly as evidence in their own right. This project will capture, through digital storytelling, the experiences and perspectives of young children with autism (aged 4-5 years), and their families, as the children prepare to make the transition from nursery to primary school. The setting, Aviary Nursery, is an inclusive nursery school in Eastleigh, Hampshire that prioritises children’s play, interests, friendships, and different ways of communicating and interacting with each other.

This project, funded by the Froebel Trust, runs from March to January 2019, and will follow 4-6 children during the months before their transition. Children’s voices and views are at the centre of the research through highlighting their unique trajectories via individual digital stories. The stories will illustrate both the positive experiences and the challenges that children and their families face as well as model how these challenges are mitigated by school-based processes. The digital stories are important in terms of their co-creation with teachers and families, giving validation and voice to diverse experiences and views. The stories will also be used in a novel way as a tool for facilitating the transition by introducing the primary school to the child as a child, rather than as a paper-based description of needs and difficulties.

You can view the project website here.

The voices and experiences of children with autism, and their families, in their transitions from nursery to primary school.

Felix Perkes

BSc Psychology 

I am Felix Perkes, a third year student studying for a BSc in Psychology at the University of Southampton; during my studies I have developed a strong interest in autism, building on my previous curiosity. Studies have indicated that there is a lack of focus on the views of young persons with autism – that is, directly from their perspective, as opposed to peripheral views from parents, teachers, and others, such that the knowledge-base about autism is informed by people without autism (Fayette & Bond, 2017). This is problematic since research accordingly fails to account for the perspectives of children with autism, especially since it is conducted primarily for their benefit: for example, previous research on transitions between preschool and primary school with children with autism has mainly focused on parental and teacher views.

This study aims to capture the voices and experiences of pre-schoolers with autism during the period of their transition to primary school, with an aim to capture their unique perspectives that are usually neglected by researchers. This will be done by observing their interactions and activities over the course of their day in the nursery, aiming to gain an insight into what they enjoy doing, as well as their perspectives on the big and small transitions within the nursery. In addition to the views of the children, the perspectives of the parents and staff at the nursery will also be gathered. This data will be collected through a series of observations as part of a qualitative research study, as well as through a series of interviews with parents and nursery staff. This data can be used to produce more holistic accounts of the children with autism transitioning to primary school that more fully reflects their interests and perspectives.

You can read in detail about the project’s findings here.

Exploring the experiences of primary to secondary transition for children with Autism – student, teacher & parental perspectives

Keri Hoy

BSc Education and Psychology

I’m Keri Hoy, I am currently in my final year of a BSc Education and Psychology. As part of my course, I am carrying out a dissertation titled ‘exploring the experiences of primary to secondary transition for children with Autism – student, teacher & parental perspectives’

This is a key research area as findings suggest that negative transitions can have long lasting negative effects on students’ attainment and wellbeing, and individuals with autism are particularly vulnerable during the transition to secondary school. There is a lack of research which directly elicits the views of young people with autism, as well as including the views of multiple key stakeholders. My project aims to address this current gap in the literature by hearing from students, parents and teachers, to provide them with a voice.

My project aims to explore the following research questions:

  1. What are the views and experiences of young people on the autism spectrum about their transition from primary to secondary school? What has helped? What has hindered? What else could be done to support these young people?
  2. What are the views of parents and teachers about the transitions of young people on the autism spectrum from primary to secondary school? What has helped? What has hindered? What else could be done to support these young people?
  3. What support can be given to parents and teachers to enable them to support children through the transition?

A case study of one school will be conducted. A photovoice activity will be used with multiple students with autism, in which they will be asked to take photographs of areas of their school that they like/dislike, or find helpful/unhelpful. In-depth interviews will then be conducted with these students, as well as their parents/carers, and a member of staff who works closely with them.  We hope that this will provide a rich overall picture of the experiences of the primary to secondary school transition for students with autism.

You can read in detail about the project’s findings here.

Exploring the Experiences of Transitions from Nursery to Primary School from the Perspectives of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Jessica Baker

BSc Education and Psychology

I am Jessica Baker, a student at the University of Southampton studying BSc in Education and Psychology. For my final project I am carrying out a dissertation based on the transition processes of children with autism from preschool to primary school, currently being supervised by Professor Sarah Parsons.

There is very little research presented in this area, findings available so far often rely on the opinions and experiences of parents and teachers. This is why it’s so important for ACoRNS to explore and investigate the perspectives of children with autism, although it may be more difficult. My project involves exploring the experiences of transitions of children at preschool age in Aviary Nursery, Eastleigh, from the perspectives of the children, parents and staff.

I aim to observe a number of children and gain the opinions of the staff and parents involved with the children. Furthermore, the Froebel principles will be core to my project and I will consider these whilst making my observations and interviewing the parents and staff. I am very lucky and grateful that I have such a welcoming nursery in which to carry out my research!

You can read in detail about the project’s findings here.

How Do Children on the Autism Spectrum Experience Transitions in Primary School?

Ellie White

BSc Psychology

In recent years research has begun to focus on how children with autism experience transitions, such as between classes and year groups. Transitions such as these are an important part of primary schoolyet there is an overwhelming gap in research on transitions in this time periodThat is, the majority of research in this area focuses on the major transitions of children from primary to secondary school, or from secondary school to post-school settingsIt is important to address this gap in research as it is becoming increasingly clearer that experiences of schooling in the younger, formative years can have a great impact on experiences later in school life.

The aim of this research is to do a case study of Blackfield Primary School, to understand the practices that help students with autism transition through the school. This study will explore how children and young people with autism can be supported in sharing their views and experiences to find out what has helped them in their transitions and what has hindered them, in the hope that we will be able to discover what can be done better. In order to gather detailed data, information will be collected from multiple sources including the children themselves, teachers, and parents. The objective is to gather new knowledge from the children about what helps and doesn’t help with their transitions through school, in order to provide education practitioners with a better understanding of how to support a child with autism through these experiences.

You can read in detail about the project’s findings here.


Investigating the numbers of Children in Care with Autism

Tracey Emery

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MBPsS

This project will analyse the results of an enquiry made under the freedom of information act by a parent regarding the number of children in care with a diagnosis of autism. This is a key area of research since this investigation has suggested that children in this population may be under-diagnosed and therefore unable to access support and interventions which could enable them to reach their full potentials. The data will be analysed using both qualitative and quantitative methods and seeks to answer important questions related to children in care with special educational needs.

You can read in detail about the project’s findings here.

The link to the published paper is here.

Autism Participatory/Co-constructed Partnerships in Research – What is in the Literature?

Sophie Hall

BSc Education and Psychology 

In recent years, there has been a call for more community based research partnerships, in which members of the autism community (including autistic people, families and practitioners) work alongside researchers to create and inform research.  Studies have highlighted that the autism community are generally dissatisfied about the type of research being conducted in the UK, as it predominantly focuses on the biological and neurological nature of autism.  The autism community prioritise research on aspects that affect the daily lives of autistic people and their families (e.g., research looking into public service provision). This project looks at what the academic literature says about community based research partnerships, in terms of their success and weaknesses. Whilst this project is ongoing, findings so far indicate that there is still a significant lack of community involvement in research, but more is being done to encourage research-community partnerships (e.g., through funding and policy development), so this may change over the next few years.

You can read in detail about the project’s findings here.

Educational Transitions and Trajectories for Children and Young People with Autism: A Literature Review

Caitlin Murray

MSc Foundations of Clinical Psychology

This project focuses on reviewing the current literature to gain an understanding of the current research and evidence base surrounding the educational trajectories and transitions of children and young people with autism, which is the focus of the ACoRNS project.  Transitions can be divided into horizontal or vertical transitions, where horizontal transitions indicate daily movements between settings and situations, for example between home and school, and vertical transitions indicate a movement from one level or agency to another, for example the transition between primary and secondary school.  The majority of the research currently identified focuses on vertical transitions, although research indicates that horizontal transitions are often of greater concern to parents and families of children with autism.

This project will include literature reviews for each transitional period, including the preschool to primary, primary to secondary, secondary to further or higher education, and post-education transitions.  Educational trajectories will also be investigated.  Findings so far indicate that research often relies on the perspectives of parents and teachers, who often spoke about the struggle to be heard and listened to, the stigma surrounding autism, and the value of support and communication with professionals and school staff members, as well as discussing helpful and unhelpful transition strategies.  The current focus on this project is on the preschool-to-primary and the primary-to-secondary transition.  The overall aim of this project is to provide a full review of the research and evidence to establish gaps in our knowledge, to identify future research priorities of the autism community and to identify the role of ACoRNS within this area.

You can read in detail about the project’s findings here.

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