Transitions There is currently a lack of research that focuses on “the needs and experiences of families of children with [autism spectrum disorder] (ASD) ( . . . ) in the United States who represent multiple minoritized identities, including race, ethnicity, language, lower socioeconomic status, and geographical differences.” This study serves to take the first […]23 Nov 2023
Supporting the School Transitions of Students with Autism
March 26, 2023
There is currently a lack of research that focuses on “the needs and experiences of families of children with [autism spectrum disorder] (ASD) ( . . . ) in the United States who represent multiple minoritized identities, including race, ethnicity, language, lower socioeconomic status, and geographical differences.” This study serves to take the first step towards understanding “K-12 school transition strategies that support these intersectionally minoritized communities” as a means to improve outcomes for those with ASD.
Parent and Student Concerns About Transitions
While school transitions vary, previous research reveals that a majority of parents express concerns about ASD knowledge of school staff in the new setting, especially as the number of teachers with whom students interact increases as they advance through the grade levels. Additionally, parents and teens were concerned with social skills, independent functioning, coping skills, and social relationships (Lee et al., 2014; Makin et al., 2017; Neal & Frederickson, 2016). When considering the intersection of minoritized families and students with ASD, research states that there are greater challenges related to transitions due to a lack of resources. For instance, students may be misdiagnosed or income and/or geographical location may impact access to certain services.
Transition Supports That Can be Used to Facilitate Transitions
Smith et al. used critical race theory as a framework for their research to better “understand the inherent strengths of minoritized communities and the cultural capital they employ when navigating K-12 school transition.” They also adopted a community-partnered participatory research model (CPPR) to enable bidirectional learning between the researchers and the community.
45 parents of children with ASD who had gone through a school transition and received public assistance, as well as 75 school providers, were involved in the interview-based study. The results of the study revealed four key school transition supports for minority families with children with ASD: school tours and visits, information and communication tools, knowledge and skill acquisition, and people who facilitated the transition process.
School tours and visits were cited as the most popular transitional support but also brought forward challenges given the time commitment needed to travel to the school and potential barriers related to accessing transportation. However, parents “agreed on the power of cheat sheets and other transition tools that gave linguistic capital to families as they navigated school transitions.” The most beneficial and universal formal support identified by all parents was the classroom teachers.
The Importance of Communicating to Families Regarding Transitions and Supports
Smith et al’s. study emphasizes the power dynamics between institutions and the communities they serve. The transition process explored in this study highlights “how the dominant culture seeks to reproduce systems that continue to subordinate these communities (Solorzano et al., 2000; Yosso, 2005).” While parents understood the value of participating in these transition efforts for their children, many still require social capital to aid in their participation.
Regardless, “the families in this study displayed their rich navigational capital throughout the entire transition process. They utilized their social networks, learned new skills, researched their options, and persisted in order to maneuver through processes and institutions developed primarily for nondisabled, White, middle-class populations.” Moving forward, the authors noted the need for additional research to better understand the differences experienced by specific ethnic and racial groups. The study also reinforces the importance for school leaders to provide linguistically appropriate communication to families regarding transition practices and available supports.
“In urban communities, parents typically have more choices for school programs and placements for children with ASD, but options for rural, economically, ethnically and linguistically minoritized children with developmental disabilities are few, particularly for high school (Ben-Porath, 2012).”
“For secondary school transition, beneficial skills included self-advocacy, independence, and self-determination skills, often delivered through social skills groups and embedded daily social skills instruction. This focus on growing independence and developing the youth’s ability to make choices highlights the importance of this developmental period.”
“Parents and providers identified similar barriers and successes identified by ethnically and linguistically diverse families with children with other developmental disabilities (Burke, 2017; St. Amant et al., 2018). For example, parents whose primary language is Spanish require written information in Spanish in a timely manner (e.g., a Spanish-language IEP provided during the actual meeting instead of waiting for weeks or months after).”
As this study revealed, classroom teachers play a significant role in a successful school transition for students with ASD and their families. It is important that teachers’ communication with families remains clear and consistent throughout the process, and taking time to ask the families what would be helpful for them may go a long way in making the process easier for all stakeholders. — Taryn McBrayne
Smith, J. M., Kataoka, S. H., Segovia, F. R., Osuna, A., Arriaga, I., Garcia, C. D., Lee, H. S., Chiappe, J. C., Juarez, J. L., Kasari, C., Hassrick, E. M., Jones F., Mandell, D. S., Stahmer, A. C., Mundy, P., Smith, T., & Linares, D. E. (2021). Communities Speak Up: Supporting the K-12 school transitions of students with autism. Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners, 21(1), 55-77.