Autism, Anxiety and Enabling Access to Education

  • Siobhan O'Hagan

Student thesis: Doctor of Educational and Child Psychology


Background: Mainstream education can be difficult for autistic children given the social communication difficulties, inflexible thinking and sensory sensitivities associated with autism. Educators can still find providing a safe, inclusive and supportive environment for autistic students challenging. Subsequently autistic children are at a risk of experiencing school related anxiety and school avoidance. This has led some parents to decide to home educate which is the focus of the first paper. However, this is not a viable option for all families and so the second paper focuses on the supportive factors that have helped autistic girls successfully return, re-engage and maintain their attendance in mainstream education. Methods/participants: The first paper describes a systematic literature review (SLR) of papers exploring the experiences of parents who decide to home educate their autistic children. Ten papers published between 2011-2019 were identified using the PRISMA framework and evaluated for methodological quality and relevance of focus. The second paper, an empirical investigation, reports a case study design utilising semi-structured interviews with three autistic girls, their parents and key adults across three different secondary schools. The final paper focuses on dissemination. Analysis/findings: The SLR identified a range of reasons that led parents to home educate and revealed that this educative option can have good academic and social outcomes for autistic children. The empirical investigation identified a relational approach was at the core of autistic girls re-engaging with formal education. Conclusions/implications Although not all parents may be able to home educate, this review indicates that parents with appropriate emotional, financial and social supports have found home educating their autistic children empowering. Factors that supported autistic girls to overcome school avoidance included positive relationships with key adults, friendship, psychoeducation and good autism practice including safe spaces and a flexible approach. Implications for schools and educational psychology practice are considered.
Date of Award31 Dec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorCaroline Bond (Supervisor) & Judith Hebron (Supervisor)


  • school refusal
  • school avoidance
  • home schooling
  • home education
  • education
  • anxiety
  • autism

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