The purpose of this paper is to explore the transition to and early experience of secondary school for students with autism from the perspective of their parents. It aimed to gather the parents’ personal accounts of their views of the transition experience for their child and of their perceptions of both the positive and the negative factors inherent in the process of transition. There was an emphasis on seeking useful information for others from the parent’s perception, views and choices.
As parents were reporting on their own perceptions and also their child’s experiences, a qualitative exploratory descriptive method was required. Thematic analysis was used as a pragmatic method to report on the experiences, meanings and the reality of the transition to secondary school from a parent’s perspective (Braun and Clarke, 2012).
A variety of supports and strategies were described, parents were unanimous in their emphasis of the importance of communication to them. Parents were concerned about secondary schools not fully understanding the nature of autism, and the impact this can have on their child as an individual. Despite differing perceptions and views on the purpose or end product of secondary educations for their child, all the parents communicated a desire for their child to reach their potential and make progress within the secondary school system.
This was a small qualitative study with a self-selected group of parents in the Republic of Ireland, with fathers underrepresented. It did not take any account from any other stakeholders or the students themselves.
Parents would benefit from more practical support and communication during this time in the child’s education. Their recommendations and personal experiences may serve as a useful reference point for parents preparing for this time in their child’s school life.
The study highlights the need to better understand how children with autism can be supported in making social attainments and connections within mainstream secondary schools in Ireland.