Integrating Family Concerns in School Transition Preparation for Diploma-Track Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Poster Presentation
Saturday, May 4, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
J. Chen, G. I. Orsmond and E. S. Cohn, Department of Occupational Therapy, Boston University, Boston, MA
Background: In the United States, federal mandates require that parents and transition-age students (14-22 years old) receiving special education services be involved in the decision-making process regarding education and service plans. However, research suggests that families and students may not be meaningfully involved in the process. In particular, students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are the least likely to attend or provide input in their annual meetings (i.e., Individualized Education Program meetings), compared to students with other disabilities. Researchers also document that parents of youth with ASD have concerns for their student’s adult future, and are dissatisfied with transition preparation and services. Due to their academic successes, youth with ASD who are primarily included in general education, and will receive a high school diploma, may be particularly understudied or inadequately supported in preparing for life after high school. Thus, there is a need for further exploration of how schools are currently addressing the needs and concerns of families of transition-age students with ASD graduating with their same-age peers.

Objectives: The goal of this exploratory analysis was to examine the Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) of 20 students with ASD from their last year of high school, in order to: (a) describe the parent and student concerns and annual goals documented in IEPs; and (b) explore whether families’ concerns are integrated in students’ annual goals and objectives.

Methods: IEPs were collected directly from families or schools, as part of a longitudinal study with parents and students with ASD graduating with a high school diploma within a year. Content analysis was conducted to systematically code and classify concerns and annual goals/objectives. Additional analyses were completed to examine the congruence between concerns and goals for each individual student. Table 1 provides coding examples. We then explored patterns across all students regarding how families’ concerns were being addressed in students’ annual goals.

Results: Parent and student concerns and annual goals focused on a wide range of domains, such as high school academics, organization skills, and life skills (e.g., money management, community mobility). However, in numerous cases, student and parent concerns did not align. Further, families’ concerns were often not entirely addressed in the annual goals. For example, one family stated concerns about the student’s academics, social/communication with peers, emotional well-being, and transition to college; however, her annual goals only addressed emotion management and strategies to complete academic work.

Conclusions: These analyses provide insight into the types of concerns and annual goals documented for diploma-track youth with ASD. Further, the findings suggest a misalignment between families’ concerns and annual goals, intended to direct students’ special education supports and services for the year. These findings suggest that schools may have different priorities than families. Overall, the findings highlight the need for future research on how the decision-making process in developing priorities for annual goals is occurring in practice, and moreover how family perspectives are considered in developing transition plans for high school students with ASD.

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See more of: Education