Understanding the Perceptions of School Engagement of Parents of Students With Autism



When it comes to a child’s education, the ideal scenario involves a strong partnership between families and schools. This collaboration becomes even more crucial for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), who often require additional support and specialized approaches to thrive in the classroom.


A recent study published in March 2024, titled “Understanding the Perceptions of School Engagement of Parents of Students With Autism,” delves deeper than the traditional notion of collaboration. It explores how parents of autistic children perceive their own involvement in their child’s education, shedding light on a broader spectrum of engagement that goes beyond simply working together with teachers.


Filling the Knowledge Gap: Why This Research Matters


Prior research on family-school engagement often focused on general models or lacked the specific perspective of parents with autistic children. This new study bridges that gap by giving voice to these parents and their unique experiences.


By understanding how parents of autistic children view their role in school, educators and administrators can gain valuable insights into how to better support this crucial partnership.


Listening to the Voices: Methodology of the Study


The researchers employed a focus group approach, gathering 22 parents of autistic children (aged 3-21) for facilitated discussions. This method allowed for in-depth exploration of the parents’ experiences and preferences regarding school engagement.


Expanding the Definition: Seven Types of Engagement Identified


The analysis of the focus group discussions revealed seven distinct ways parents engage with their child’s school. These categories move beyond the traditional “collaboration” model and highlight the multifaceted nature of parental involvement:

  1. Collaborative Partnership: This familiar concept involves working together with teachers and administrators to develop and implement Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and address ongoing needs.
  2. Home-School Communication: Maintaining open and consistent communication channels between parents and teachers is essential for ensuring a smooth learning experience and addressing any concerns that may arise.
  3. Advocacy: Parents of autistic children often take on the role of advocate, proactively representing their child’s needs and ensuring they receive appropriate services and accommodations within the school system.
  4. School-Based Participation: This type of engagement involves actively participating in school life, such as volunteering in classrooms, attending school events, and joining parent-teacher associations.
  1. Beyond these familiar categories, the study identified three additional types of engagement that are particularly relevant for parents of autistic children:
    1. Home-Based Participation: Supporting learning goes beyond the school walls. Parents play a vital role in reinforcing learned skills and providing additional practice at home.
    2. Service Coordination: Many autistic children require support from various service providers, such as therapists and specialists. Parents often act as coordinators, ensuring a cohesive and comprehensive system of support for their child.
    3. Classroom Observation: Gaining a firsthand understanding of their child’s learning environment can be crucial for parents. Observing the classroom allows them to better understand their child’s challenges and successes within the school setting.


Two of these categories – service coordination and classroom observation – are novel contributions to the existing body of research on family-school engagement. They highlight the unique needs and challenges faced by parents of autistic children.


Unique Insights and Future Directions


This research offers a valuable perspective on how parents of autistic children view their role in school engagement. By identifying these diverse types of engagement and the potential challenges associated with each, the study paves the way for improved collaboration between families and schools.


Understanding these diverse perspectives can inform strategies to better support parents. Schools can develop programs that cater to different types of engagement, such as offering workshops on home-based learning techniques or creating opportunities for classroom observation.


Future research can explore how schools can tailor their approach to family engagement based on the specific needs and preferences of families with autistic children. Ultimately, the goal is to create a more successful and inclusive learning environment where all students, including those with autism, can thrive.




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