2020 - 2021

Developing an environment that promotes reflection and regulation

Joanne Bennett

Doctorate in Educational Psychology

Autistic children and young people are recognised as often having difficulties with emotional regulation (Prizant et al., 2006). The Zones of Regulation (Kuypers, 2011) is a curriculum that has been designed to support young people to recognise and communicate their emotions and use regulation tools. It aims to develop necessary underlying skills, including emotional and sensory regulation, executive functioning and social cognition.

This project is a case study of a residential special school for autistic children and young people with moderate-severe learning disabilities, who are in the process of embedding the Zones of Regulation as a whole school approach. Using a participatory approach, the project will involve exploring the experiences and views of young people and staff in order to answer the research question: ‘How is a residential special school develop an environment that promotes reflection and regulation?’ Within this, we are interested in exploring how the approach has been individualised for each young person, how the physical environment has been developed and any facilitators or barriers to the implementation of the approach.

The project aims to provide valuable insight into the young people’s experiences and views, which will help the school to continue developing their practices. Additionally, with research being unrepresentative of children and young people in residential placements and autistic young people with learning disabilities and communication difficulties (Fayette & Bond, 2017; Pellicano, Hill & Croydon, 2014; Russell, Mandy, Elliott, White, Pittwood & Ford, 2019), this project will demonstrate ways in which research can be inclusive of these young people.

An exploration of the impact of nurture groups on autistic children in mainstream secondary schools

Jo Corney

PhD in Education

Recent studies show that many autistic children are placed in educational settings which are unable to accommodate their needs. However, they are expected to continue along the same progression path as all other children. As a result, autistic children are more likely to experience social isolation and mental health issues and are more likely to be excluded from school than children with any other disability (National Autistic Society, 2018a; Ambitious about Autism, 2019; Timpson, 2019). Nurture groups have been hailed for improving outcomes for children with social, emotional, and behavioural difficulties (Cooper and Tiknaz, 2007; Boxall, 2010), yet their impact on autistic children has largely been ignored. For the autistic child, a nurture group can provide the haven and social and emotional assistance they need to escape the sensory processing difficulties of the mainstream (Symeonidou and Robinson, 2018). This study will examine the significance of nurture groups for autistic pupils. It will focus on a group of autistic children before, during and after their participation within a secondary school nurture group. The children’s voices, and those of their parent/carers and teachers, are central to this study. The research questions I aim to address are: (1) How does a secondary school nurture group positively enhance the social, emotional, and academic development of autistic pupils? (2) What factors of the nurture group specifically enhance an autistic child’s secondary education experience? (3) What are the perceptions of the child’s parents/carers and mainstream teachers on the impact of the nurture group on autistic pupils? (4) What elements of the nurture group can be transferred to the secondary mainstream classroom to help support autistic pupils?

Using the intense interests of autistic pupils to improve motivation and engagement in secondary education

Roseanna Louise Tansley

Integrated PhD in Education

1.3% (42,555 pupils) of the secondary school population in England have autism identified as a primary need and there are numerous reports of poor academic and social experiences amongst this group. The intense interests that form part of an autism diagnosis relate to an increased focus on specific topics or objects and are reported to positively impact learning when effectively embedded into teaching. However, there is very little research into evidence-based practices for supporting pupils at secondary school and most research on intense interests relates to primary-aged rather than secondary-aged pupils. I therefore aim to explore the concept of embedding intense interests into aspects of teaching to improve motivation and engagement for learning within a secondary school context, listening primarily to the voices of autistic pupils and their teachers. To achieve this, I will address the following research questions: 1) What are the different ways intense interests are used within classrooms to facilitate motivation and engagement for autistic pupils at secondary school? 2) In what ways is it best to approach the implementation of using intense interests within secondary school classrooms to support learning? This will be explored through adopting a qualitative methodology, using semi-structured interviews with autistic pupils and their teachers to gather perspectives on how important these intense interests are to autistic pupils, and how these could be embedded into everyday classroom practice.
2019 - 2020

How do Virtual Schools Support Looked After Autistic Children?

Lynn De La Fosse

Doctorate in Educational Psychology

Department for Education statistics show that children who are looked after have poorer academic outcomes than their non-looked after peers, including lower attainment in reading, writing, maths and science. Little research has looked specifically at the outcomes of looked-after children with additional needs. Children who are looked after are more likely to have special educational needs and / or disabilities (SEND) than non-looked after children. Of those, 2-3% of all looked-after children are estimated to have an autism diagnosis (Parsons, McCullen, Emery & Kovshoff, 2018).
Virtual Schools operate in every local authority to monitor and support the progress of all looked-after children in that local authority as if they attended one single school. My project aims to explore how Virtual Schools support looked after children with a diagnosis of autism. The present study will focus on the views and experiences of Designated Teachers, and the role they play in supporting looked-after children with autism. It will also explore the experiences of the looked after autistic children themselves, as they are significantly under-represented in the literature.
Two main research questions will be considered:
  • How does a Virtual School operate to support looked after autistic children?
  • How is the role of the Designated Teacher understood from the perspectives of the teachers themselves, and the LAC they work with?
I will be taking a qualitative research approach, carrying out semi-structured interviews with Designated Teachers and looked-after students with a diagnosis of autism in up to four Local Authorities in England. This project is supervised by Professor Sarah Parsons and Dr Hanna Kovshoff.

Exploring the views of siblings of autistic children in a residential school

Lisa Chen-Wilson

BSc Education and Psychology

As part of my degree in BSc Education and Psychology, I’m carrying out a dissertation project to explore the views of siblings of autistic children in a residential school. Research often tends to collate data on parent and teacher views, but there is currently little academic literature on sibling experiences, particularly regarding siblings of children in residential special schools. Evidence suggests that siblings of autistic children may have an elevated risk of psychosocial difficulties and concerns about future responsibilities.
This research aims to:
  • Compare participants’ experiences of having an autistic sibling at home and in residential education.
  • Find out how school staff can provide better targeted support for the siblings of their residents.
This project uses a survey methodology to gain perspectives of siblings and the findings will be used to inform and develop practices at the school. You can read in detail about the project’s findings here.

Widening horizons through participatory design with autistic students

Verity Ward

PhD in Education

In recent years those specialising in the design of technologies for autistic people have made increasing efforts to involve them in the design process through participatory design approaches. In doing so, they move away from deficit-focused thinking and value the knowledge and contribution which autistic people can make to their designs. However, researchers often encounter tensions between their desire to value autistic peoples’ contributions and objectives for the technological output of the projects.
My research builds on calls by Parsons and Cobb (2014) to focus on the effects of participatory design as a process rather than the technological output of such projects. Rather than having specific goals for the technological output of projects, the aims of my research relate to changing perspectives on autism, the capabilities of autistic people, and their expectations for future employment.
My first study is a collaboration with Fairmead School, where we are running a computer game design project, with the help of some local industry representatives. In doing so, we aim to investigate how such projects can influence people’s expectations for the future employment of young autistic people, according to the different roles they play in the project.

Using Digital Stories to facilitate autistic young people to have a voice in their transition to adulthood

Stephanie Lewis

Doctorate in Educational Psychology

The importance of eliciting the voices of young people and their participation within decision making on matters that affect their lives, is robustly supported within government guidelines and legislation. However, previous research suggests that due to perceived communication barriers, children and young people on the autism spectrum are frequently excluded from decision making and consultations relating to their education planning, and omitted from research studies (Fayette & Bond, 2017; Hill et al., 2014 & Pellicano, Dinsmore & Charman, 2014). Autistic young people residing in residential schools who have complex needs are further underrepresented within research and decision-making (Pellicano, Hill & Croydon, 2014). It is therefore crucial that autistic young people are included in this process and research develops and evaluates novel and creative methods, to ensure the views and voices of young people with complex needs are heard and understood.
This thesis project aims to adapt and extend the ‘I am..’ digital story framework, that has been originally developed in a nursery setting, for older young people transitioning from residential special school, post 19. In addition, this project will aim to evaluate the views from key stakeholders and the young people of their experiences of the digital stories, both the co-production and it’s use within transition meetings.
The following research questions will be addressed in this study:
  1. How can young people on the autism spectrum attending a residential special school be supported to express themselves (views, perceptions, preferences) through coproduction of digital stories?
  2. What are the views and experiences from key stakeholders of the digital stories as a methodology to inform decisions made about young people’s transition?
  3. In what ways can the ‘I am…’ digital story framework be applied and revised for older young people on the autistic spectrum and limited verbal communication?
This will be achieved by co-creating digital stories with the young person, care staff and other professionals working within a residential setting. Semi-structured interviews will be conducted to understand the perspectives, experiences and views on the digital storytelling methodology and its use within transition meetings. This research will therefore extend and evaluate the use of digital stories as a methodology to facilitate knowledge co-creation of young people’s transition trajectories to adulthood.

Using creative methods to research and support autistic children in their transition to secondary school

Chloe East

PhD Psychology

Transitioning from primary to secondary school can be challenging for autistic children and their families. Issues with home/school communication, organisational challenges and concerns about bullying and friendships have all been found to be particularly stressful for the child and his or her family at this time.  Although research has identified some of the barriers to a successful transition, there has been little published about the efficacy of strategies to support the transition.
This research will study and support the transition using creative methods.  Body mapping is a participatory research method which will encourage the children to share their embodied experience of transitions.  The outcomes will be used as the basis for a series of drama workshops exploring the hopes and challenges of the children as they move to their new schools.  Resources to ease the concerns identified will be developed in conjunction with the children and their parents.
The project aims to answer the following research questions:
  1. How can body mapping support autistic children to express their feeling around transitions?
  2. How can drama be used to support autistic children in their transition to secondary school?
  3. What do parents of autistic children need to know in order to support their child’s transition to secondary school?
How can parents’ knowledge be used to support the development of a transition communication tool?

Evaluating whether digital stories can support children in their transition from nursery to primary school

Henry Wood

CRI Research Fellow

My name is Henry Wood, and I am a Research Fellow at the Centre for Research in Inclusion (CRI), Southampton Education School, University of Southampton. I also work as an Educational Psychologist, and have long-standing interests in autism, inclusive education, and person-centred approaches.
As part of my Research Fellow role, I am involved in evaluating whether Digital Stories can support children in their transition from nursery to primary school. Digital Stories are short videos that show who the child is, including their strengths, capabilities and preferences, rather than focusing on their difficulties and challenges (as tends to be the case with written reports).
I am working with new nursery settings to equip their practitioners with the skills to develop Digital Stories for their children. The videos will be shown at the beginning of multi-disciplinary transition meetings to help plan for the move from early years to primary settings. Adult stakeholders will be asked to give feedback, and possibly take part in a semi-structured interview, in order to evaluate the use of the Stories. I am also hoping to trial using Digital Stories as part of early years assessments carried out by Educational Psychologists, and evaluate their efficacy to this process.
We aim to answer the following research questions:
  • To what extent do adult stakeholders involved in supporting autistic children transitioning from early years to primary settings perceive the Digital Stories to be helpful?
  • How can Digital Stories be used in multidisciplinary meetings to support such transitions?
  • How can Digital Stories be used to help represent children’s voice in early years’ assessments and reports?
  • To what extent do adult stakeholders perceive digital stories to be useful to early years’ assessments?

Co-constructing a bespoke transition programme with a Further Education college for autistic students

Sarah Parsons, Hilra Vinha, Joe Cunningham

Transitions between stages of education are challenging for all children and young people but there is good evidence that such transitions can be especially difficult for students on the autism spectrum. Many students on the autism spectrum struggle with the transition from college to University, often due to experiences of environments which may not support their aspirations and ambitions adequately enough, and a lack of information or experience about what Universities are like. This project aims to design a bespoke transition programme jointly planned between the University and Richard Taunton College to support Widening Participation initiatives. The project seeks to address the following questions:
  • What are the priorities, interests and needs that should be taken into account when planning a transition programme for students on the autism spectrum?
  • How do the students and staff involved in the transition programme evaluate its success?
  • In what ways could the programme be further developed and implemented?

Strategies for creating inclusive environments: learning from neurodiversity

Sarah Parsons, Bronagh Walsh, Kate Freeth , Joe Cunningham, Rachael Howe

We are a group of researchers and educators who share a commitment to strengthening our inclusive practices in order to improve outcomes for neurodiverse students, including those on the autism spectrum. This project will establish a Neurodiversity Action Learning Set [NeurALS] with colleagues from different Faculties at the University, as well as from the Widening Participation team. We will also involve local FE colleges and schools who support students to apply to Southampton and research our own learning in seeking to change our own practices. We include colleagues from the Initial Teacher Education programme at the University, thereby aiming to ensure that the learning that takes place for us as a group can also be shared with the next generation of school educators who will have responsibility for supporting our future students’ aspirations. The main question that we aim to address is: How can we learn from neurodiversity to create more inclusive teaching and learning environments at Southampton?
2018 - 2019

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

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

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

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

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. You can read in detail about the project’s findings here.
2017 - 2018

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.
2016 - 2017

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.