Flexible support systems for children with autistic spectrum disorders : can an outreach model of support influence inclusive educational practice?
The thesis focuses on the impact of specialist outreachladvisory services for pupils with autistic spectrum disorders. An outreach service can be defined as one that has staff with specialist knowledge, skills and experience in a specific area. It offers support to a number of recipients, such as pupils, their families and school-based staff. A review of the literature gives a historical feel for the evolution of such support services, and also considers current influences such as recent government policy and legislation in relation to special educational needs. The specific nature of the special educational needs of those with autistic spectrum disorders is outlined. A national survey was carried out in England and Wales by sending a postal questionnaire to all principal educational psychologists. This aimed to determine the presence of autism outreach / advisory services. Based on a return rate of 81 questionnaires (53% of LEAs surveyed), this revealed that 24 (3 0%) of local education authorities (LEAs) had some form of structured outreach or advisory services specifically catering for pupils with autistic spectrum disorders. A further 20 (24%) of returns indicated emerging or informal services were in existence. Approximately a third of the autism outreach / advisory services were based in a special school and only a very small number operated from a mainstream school base. Approximately half were based on an autonomous site. The autism services were found to vary considerably in terms of the total number of pupils supported and the staff involved. There was evidence of a strong LEA commitment to ensuring that there was a specialist EP responsible for pupils with autistic spectrum disorders n= 43(53% of sample). In order to achieve a richer picture of service delivery, two autism outreach services were evaluated in detail using a case study approach. The methods used included interviews, a focus group and questionnaires. The views of outreach teachers, and those staff in schools receiving outreach support were sought. This demonstrated a shared understanding of the aims of the services. The outreach support was received in a very positive way by schools and was seen to have a real impact directly on the pupil as well as on staff development. The author proposes that a specialist outreach service can effectively act as a bridge to inclusion for a group of pupils with autistic spectrum disorders. Such a model fits in with the latest government proposals to increase inclusion through partnerships between special and mainstream schools. A framework for practice is put forward for consideration which summarises processes and constraints of such support and other service delivery issues.