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30th Mar 2023

New study will ask autistic children about school experiences

Clodagh McKeon

The study is the first of its kind

Autistic children are to be asked to give their own accounts of their experiences of school in a landmark study.

The motivation behind the study is that its findings will help to inform the future development of educational policy for autistic children.

The study is being launched today, ahead of World Autism Day on Sunday.

It’s called ‘The Autism Friendly Schools Project’ and it will investigate the experiences of autistic children in primary and secondary schools across Ireland.

Researchers at Dublin City University are putting out a call to schools today to get involved in the study.

The ground-breaking research aims to hear directly from autistic pupils about what makes schools inclusive and what changes they would like to see.

The latest estimate is that more than 3% of the school population has additional needs which is mainly autism. There is also a drive to make the education system more inclusive, including with the opening of more classes.

Autism is characterised by differences in social skills, behaviours, speech and non-verbal communication. Autistic children and young people may require a range of supports to fully take part in education.

The DCU study is the first of its kind.

The data collected for it will be gathered using child-friendly methods by a multi-disciplinary team.

The findings will “create better opportunities for autistic children”

It will be headed up by Dr Sinéad McNally, Associate Professor in Psychology at DCU and Dr Mary Rose Sweeney, Associate Professor in Health Systems and Public Health at DCU’s school of nursing.

Ahead of the research, Dr McNally said her main focus is to meet, and most importantly to listen to autistic children and their parents across Ireland.

Dr Rose said: “We want to ensure children of all levels of need can come and share what they value in inclusive education and how they would like to experience school.”

Justin Dawson is the parents of a child in primary school and he is also autistic. He said that hopefully, the findings of this project will “create better opportunities for autistic children for a better tomorrow”.

Dawson is a member of the study group that has helped to steer the project.

He said that working with the research team has already given him a chance to share his thoughts on the current educational cycle, as well as “the pros and cons for a parents navigating the system for their autistic child”.

Schools across Ireland will be sent information on the study and families will be told how they can take part in the coming weeks.

You can also email to find out more about taking part.

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