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Reports Part of series: Education & Covid-19: BERA Small Grants Fund research

The experiences of autistic young people & their parents of lockdown & the reopening of schools

This report summarises findings of research into how families of autistic children and young people attending mainstream schools in England experienced and responded to home-schooling and lockdown.

It presents the perspectives of 17 parents and six children and young people about their educational experiences following the first government-imposed lockdown in the summer term of 2020.

The objectives of the research were:

  • to understand how families of autistic CYP attending mainstream schools experienced lockdown, home-schooling and virtual learning
  • to understand experiences of transition back to school after lockdown for families and autistic CYP.

Among its findings were that:

  • lockdown in the private sphere of the home came as a (partial) relief to respondents, contrary to much of the emerging research on the pandemic and its effects on families
  • many parents of neurotypical children and young people struggled with the demands of home-schooling, particularly in assisting them to access the school curriculum
  • direct contact with teachers was infrequent, and families also lost other sources of support
  • while lockdown offered a release from the ‘daily indignities’ of everyday school life, the lack of suitable educational materials and the increased isolation from support indicated the marginalisation of autistic children and young people.

Report summary

This report summarises qualitative research conducted in late 2020 with parents of autistic children and young people (CYP) attending mainstream schools in England, as well as some autistic CYP themselves. It aimed to understand how they experienced lockdown, home-schooling, virtual learning and return to school. Findings indicate that conditions of lockdown such as disrupted schooling, reduced social contact and lack of spontaneity were already familiar to participant families. Retreating into the private sphere of the home came as a (partial) relief for many, providing respite from the intense parental labour involved in negotiating between CYP and schools. However, parents faced additional responsibilities to assist their children’s access to schoolwork, and simultaneously lost vital support from families, support groups and therapies, which further exacerbated their marginalisation. Our findings lead us to argue that the pandemic has cast a harsh light on the ordinary workings of mainstream schools, which create and maintain ‘spoiled identities’  for many autistic students.

Authors

Caroline Oliver

UCL Institute of Education

Caroline Oliver is associate professor in sociology at UCL Institute of Education, where she is deputy programme director of the new BSc sociology degree at UCL. Caroline’s research focuses on social identities across the life course, with...

Carol Vincent, Professor

UCL Institute of Education

Carol Vincent is professor of sociology of education at the UCL Institute of Education and co-director of the Centre for Sociology of Education and Equity (CSEE). Carol has written and researched extensively on reactions to diversity and social...

Georgia Pavlopoulou

University College London

Georgia Pavlopoulou is a lecturer based at the Department of Psychology and Human Development at University College London and is the lead autism workforce trainer at the Anna Freud Centre. She is the founder of the Group for Research in...