The Impact of Transition from Primary to Secondary School on the Psychosocial Adjustment, Sense of School Membership and Academic Progress of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Thursday, May 12, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
J. S. Hebron, Oxford Road, University of Manchester, Manchester, England, United Kingdom
Background: The experience of education has a profound influence on the lives of children, from academic progress through to social understanding, ultimately informing the way in which adult life is negotiated. Secondary school requires a high degree of self-organisation among pupils as they move from the top of the social hierarchy at primary school to the bottom of a more complex one. Despite this, research indicates that deleterious effects are transitory for most children. However, for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) the challenge of transition can be significant, and the residual difficulties can be profound and long-lasting. The child-centred environment of a primary school can be difficult to replicate in a secondary school where children have multiple subject staff, whose awareness and understanding of ASD may be limited. In adjusting to secondary school, children are expected to form new social relationships in unfamiliar settings and adapt to changes in routine, both of which are major challenges for pupils with ASD. Despite this apparent vulnerability, there are very few quantitative studies in this area, none of which explore the post-transition trajectory using multiple timepoints. Developing knowledge and understanding of such issues is a crucial step towards designing effective interventions.  

Objectives: To explore the effects of the primary to secondary school transition for young people with ASD compared to their typically developing peers (TD), with particular reference to psychosocial adjustment, sense of school membership and academic progress.

Methods: This is a longitudinal study approaching completion. There are four points of data collection (T1-4):

  • T1 = June/July 2014 (Year 6, final term of primary school*).
  • T2 = November/December 2014 (Year 7 term 1, first year of secondary school)
  • T3 = June/July 2015 (Year 7 term 3, first year of secondary school)
  • T4 = November/December 2015 (Year 8 term 1, second year of secondary school)

*In England the school year contains three terms and starts on September 1st.

Students were aged between 10 years 9 months and 11 years 9 months at T1. At each time point, students in the ASD (N = 38) and TD (N = 22) groups, their parents and teachers complete a quality of life questionnaire, with an additional questionnaire for the students on school membership. Attainment in Mathematics/English and attendance are also recorded at each time point. Parents of pupils with ASD completed the Social Responsiveness Scale (2nd ed.) at T1 to permit exploration of within group differences according to severity of autistic symptoms. Background data were collected on each student including gender, support provided in school and educational placement. Analysis will include descriptive statistics and inferential statistics to assess change over time within and between groups and according to respondent.

Results: Longitudinal findings exploring within and between group differences from T1 to T4 will be presented for the first time at the conference, following the final wave of data collection in November/December 2015.

Conclusions: Findings will be discussed in relation to the existing broader literature, along with a consideration of the implications for policy and practice.