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Use of an Online Questionnaire to Explore Views of Educational Transition in the UK for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Thursday, 2 May 2013: 14:00-18:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
S. Anderson1, M. Murin2, S. M. Staunton3, J. Hellriegel4, W. Mandy5, O. Baykaner2 and D. H. Skuse6, (1)30 Guilford Street, Great Ormond Street Hospital NHS Trust, London, United Kingdom, (2)National Centre for High Functioning Autism, Department of Child & Adolescent Mental Health (DCAMH), Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust, London, United Kingdom, (3)Behavioural and Brain Sciences Unit, Institute of Child Health, UCL, London, United Kingdom, (4)Research Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology, University College London, London, United Kingdom, (5)Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, Faculty of Brain Sciences, UCL, London, United Kingdom, (6)Behavioural and Brain Sciences Unit, UCL Institute of Child Health, London, United Kingdom
Background: In clinical practice, transition to secondary school is one of the most stressful events for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families. Gaining an in-depth understanding of the factors which contribute to the heightened stress around this event would be immensely helpful for professionals supporting children and their families.  It would allow clinicians to be more effective in their work and enable the provision of individualised, tailored transition planning and support. 

Objectives: An online questionnaire was designed to ascertain the widest possible variety of views from a broad range of respondents.  Responses were obtained from young people with ASD, their families and professionals across the United Kingdom. We hoped that the inclusion a range of respondents would allow examination of opinions from different groups, thus mechanisms for support could be more clearly identified. We gathered demographic information and a range of qualitative information in response to specific questions about transition.

Methods: Links to the online questionnaire were circulated to all the main ASD support networks throughout the United Kingdom.

Results: Over a period of one year, over 400 responses were received. 70% came from parents or relatives of a young person with ASD. Children with ASD made up 4% of respondents and 17% were professionals interested in the area of transition, such as educationalists. The remainder of the respondents comprised adults with ASD and a category of ‘other professionals' including researchers, family support practitioners and local charities.  Preliminary analysis indicated children’s main concerns were the size of the new school and navigation around it, bullying and concerns academic work would be too difficult. Parents expressed concern that children would struggle with organisation and orientation at secondary school with 74% of the parents indicated getting lost in the school was a worry, 78% worried about the school size. All teachers indicated that getting lost would be a worry (100%). Parents worried about children forming and sustain friendships (68%), difficulties misunderstanding social rules and being bullied, though a lower figure of 30% of parents indicated bullying as a worry. Children’s mental health was a concern, with difficulties with anxiety, stress and depression being exacerbated by transition. The teachers' views mapped well with parental concerns for example both teachers and parents indicated travel to school as a worry (65%). Teachers also raised issues such as children with ASD being unable to identify sources of help when they experience difficulty at secondary school..

Conclusions:   It is hoped that the findings from this study will contribute to both clinical and research understanding of the main stress factors for children with ASD and their families during transition. These findings may also be highly informative for education professionals supporting children during transition and allow for tailored planning and intervention. A well-planned and supported transition could have a profoundly positive impact on mental health as well as a child’s progression through secondary school. Our findings potentially can help reduce school refusal and the risk of placement breakdown for children with ASD at secondary level.

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