The project, Autistic young people's and families' experiences of education during the Covid-19 pandemic was led by Dr Jill Pluquailec, senior lecturer in autism at Sheffield Hallam University
It sought to explore autistic young people’s and families’ experiences of education and how these challenges have changed during the pandemic, both within the changed school environment and/or while being educated at home.
Researchers carried out in-depth family interviews with parents and autistic young people from a range of educational backgrounds including mainstream primary, secondary school and further education, specialist schools, and home education.
The project discovered a broad range of accounts, and in some cases, significant improvements in young people’s educational experiences compared to the mainstream narrative that the pandemic has had a universally negative impact on young people.
The report also sets out a series of recommendations for policymakers and practitioners to help improve autistic young people’s educational experiences where emergency interventions are needed.
The recommendations include:
- Flexibility is crucial – including how to dress, when to eat and when to take breaks
- More freedom around exercise - young people want, and need, to move their bodies beyond the tight confines of timetabled PE lessons
- Autistic young people don’t universally experience change as a negative – pursuing routine for the sake of it can be detrimental
- Young people’s autonomous learning needs to be better recognised within schools beyond the confines of the curriculum or assessments
- Education policy and practice needs to better account for young people’s emotional wellbeing.
As part of the research project, a group of autistic school pupils produced artworks about their experiences which has been collated as a digital collection.
Dr Pluquailec said: “Our research found that in circumstances where young people and families thrived, it was where previously restrictive features of education had changed or disappeared.
“There is a lesson to be learned about how the logistics of mass education impose restrictions on young people being able to learn in the ways most conducive to their natural rhythms. It should not take a public health crisis to enable an education system to be more responsive to the needs of young people.”