Special or mainstream? A comparison of parental perspectives on choosing schools for their young children with autism

Prof Doc Thesis

Grieve, Helen 2012. Special or mainstream? A comparison of parental perspectives on choosing schools for their young children with autism. Prof Doc Thesis University of East London School of Psychology https://doi.org/10.15123/PUB.3044
AuthorsGrieve, Helen
TypeProf Doc Thesis

Many parents of children with autism report having difficulties choosing between special and mainstream school. The research took place in a Local Authority (LA) in the South East of England and aimed to explore how parents of pre-schoolers with autism in the LA made their decisions about the schools they wanted for their children. This sequential mixed methods study used a questionnaire to gather quantitative data about the factors that influenced their choices of schools. Both groups of parents described visiting the school, the feeling that staff understood their child and the school's autism-friendliness as being the most important factors in making a decision.
This was followed up by six semi-structured interviews, three with parents who had chosen special schools and three who had chosen mainstream, to explore and compare their experiences and views of choosing schools. The qualitative interviews complemented the quantitative questionnaire in exploring further the factors that influenced the parents’ choices. Thematic analysis of the interviews also revealed important insights into parents' views and experiences. Parents talked about the challenges of parenting a child with autism and about the services they had received. They expressed a range of anxieties about their children starting school and highlighted a number of factors as helping them feel that their child would be happy and safe at the schools they had chosen, which were in line with the questionnaire findings. Peer support and empathy for other parents were felt to be very important.
Parents expressed their feelings that accessing services and navigating the school system had been confusing and stressful and that parents would benefit from the system being clearer and more supportive. Comparison of the two groups revealed that pre-school experiences and parent’s views of the meaning of inclusion were different for the two groups and may have influenced their decisions about provision.
It was concluded from the qualitative findings that the decision about special or mainstream school takes place in a bigger context and is not reliant purely on school factors. The research reflects the findings of previous studies that demonstrate caring for a child with autism makes ongoing emotional demands on parents, which need to be acknowledged by the professionals involved with them. Recommendations arising from the findings of this study are explored in terms of implications for EP practice and further research.

Keywordschildren; autism; mainstreaming
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.15123/PUB.3044
Publication dates
PrintMay 2012
Publication process dates
Deposited08 Jul 2013
Publisher's version
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