Deciding on a secondary school for children with autism is notoriously difficult for parents. While current UK legislation emphasises the choice that parents of children with special educational needs should have in educational decision-making, there is a dearth of research in this area, which means that little is known about how parents come to make decisions about secondary school placements and the types of support, if any, they receive from professionals. The present study aimed to determine the factors that immediately influence secondary school choice for young people with autism in one London local authority from the perspectives of multiple informants. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with parents of children with autism (n = 7), young people themselves prior to secondary school entry (n = 6), parent advisors (n = 5) and secondary school professionals (n = 5). Parents emphasised the anxiety and burden of the decision-making process. There was, however, substantial agreement among adult groups on the factors necessary for a successful secondary school placement: a nurturing, flexible and inclusive environment that emphasised both academic and life skills. Few adults, however, mentioned the importance of children's social relationships - a factor that featured prominently in the reports of young people. These findings highlight both the different perceptions of those involved in making decisions about the educational placements of children with autism and the challenges associated with weighing up these potentially conflicting perspectives. More work is needed to ensure both that information is transparent and accessible to all parents and that young people are actively involved in decisions that ultimately affect their lives.
- special educational needs