Anxiety during Transition from Primary to Secondary Schools in Children with Neurodevelopmental Disorders: A Cross-syndrome Comparison

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The current paper examined the impact of the transition from primary to secondary school on anxiety for children with Neurodevelopmental Disorders (NDDs), specifically for autistic children, children with Down Syndrome (DS) and Williams Syndrome (WS). Previous research has highlighted the impact such educational changes can have upon autistic children, but there is only limited research for children with DS and none for those with WS. Hence, this study aimed to better understand whether school transitions have a unique or similar impact on anxiety through a cross-syndrome comparison. Sixty-one parents as well as their autistic children, children with DS and WS completed an online survey at two time-points, which included questions on adjustment and psychopathology, maladaptive behaviours, and other open-ended measures about their child’s skills as well as their experiences of the transition from primary to secondary school. Children themselves completed a short interview as well as a set of cognitive abilities tasks. Both children and parents of all three groups expressed concerns about bullying and adjustment to new environments during transition from primary to secondary school. Although wide variability was found within the autism, DS and WS groups, no significant differences were revealed in overall levels of parent-reported anxiety before and after the transition for any of the groups. However, different factors, including maladaptive behaviour, social problems and peer problems predicted anxiety during pre- and post-school transition for the three groups. This first cross-syndrome comparison on the effect of transition from primary to secondary school on anxiety highlighted the importance of individual variability when examining the transition outcomes of children with NDDs. Additionally, it identified clusters of overlap in terms of parent-report and child-report experiences of transition and unique predictors that need to be considered when planning transition support for autistic children, children with DS and WS. Future research should investigate the role of protective factors both at an individual and school level to inform the development of evidence-based intervention that support successful transition to secondary education.

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Past research has revealed that, relative to primary-school students, high-school students have less-positive attitudes to mathematics and perceive their classroom environments and teacher–student relationships less favourably. This study involved the transition experience of 541 students in 47 classes in 15 primary (year 7) and secondary (year 8) government and Catholic schools in metropolitan and regional South Australia. Scales were adapted from three established instruments, namely, the What Is Happening In this Class?, Test of Mathematics Related Attitudes and Revised Mathematics Anxiety Ratings Scale, to identify changes across the transition from primary to secondary school in terms of the classroom learning environment and students’ attitude/anxiety towards mathematics. Relative to year 7 students, year 8 students reported less Involvement, less positive Attitude to Mathematical Inquiry, less Enjoyment of Mathematics and greater Mathematics Anxiety. Differences between students in Years 7 and 8 were very similar for male and female students, although the magnitude of sex differences in attitudes was slightly different in Years 7 and 8.
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Background and aims: Children diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition are known anecdotally to be especially vulnerable during the transition to secondary school. Yet, very little is known about the child-, school-and system-level factors that can potentially make changing schools particularly difficult for these children. Here, we report on a mixed-method study, which examined the factors that influence a successful school transition for autistic children in one local education authority in England. Methods: Fifteen children were seen twice in the space of four months – once during the final term of their mainstream primary school and again during the first term of secondary school. Parents and teachers were also interviewed at both time points. Results: Overall, our participants reported negative experiences of their transition to secondary school – regardless of the type of secondary provision (mainstream or specialist) to which they transferred. None of the child-level factors measured during the pre-transition phase, including verbal ability, autistic symptomatology, sensory responsiveness and anxiety, predicted children's transition success four months later. Rather, transition success appeared to be predominantly related to several school-and system-level factors, including tensions over school choice, delays in placement decisions, lack of primary preparation and communication between schools. Identity-related issues were also a key concern for many children, which appeared to have a particularly negative influence on adjustment to their new school. Conclusions: We identified predominantly negative experiences of primary-to-secondary transition for the autistic children sampled here, which appeared to be accounted for largely by school-and system-level factors. Implications: Applying interventions that are designed to ease the transition to secondary school by modifying the school environment before, during and after transition to improve the fit between the autistic child and their educational environment should go some way in tackling school-related barriers to a successful transition for these children. System-level changes in the way that local authorities manage the transition process may also improve children and families' experiences.
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Five hundred and fifty four school children, 8 to 12 years of age, completed the Spanish version of the Spence Children's Anxiety Scale (SCAS), the ITA-UNAM, which measures anxiety in children, and the CES-D measuring depression. The study investigated the structural model of the SCAS found by Spence. Two models were tested using confirmatory factor analysis: one 38-item and a second 32-item model, both involving 6 related first-order factors loading in a higher-order factor. The 38-item model provided a reasonably good ft, confirming the one reported by Spence. However, the second model provided the best ft of the data. Both models coincide with the most common anxiety disorders classified by the DSM-IV-TR. Further psychometric analyses reinforced construct validity of the SCAS and showed acceptable internal consistency.
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The importance of school transitions for pupil adjustment, particularly their impact on later well‐being and attainment, remains contested. This paper draws on data from a longitudinal, school‐based study of over 2000 Scottish pupils, first surveyed in 135 primary schools (age 11) in 1994, and followed up in 43 secondary schools (age 13 and 15) and again after leaving school (age 18/19) in 2002/3. The length of follow‐up makes this study unique in transition research. After a year in secondary school (age 13), the majority recalled having had difficulties of adjustment to both school and peer social systems at the beginning of secondary education. While the primary (but not secondary) school played a small part in accounting for different transition experiences, controlling for a wide range of sociodemographic and other factors, personal characteristics were much more important. Respondents of lower ability and lower self‐esteem experienced poorer school transitions; those who were anxious, less prepared for secondary school and had experienced victimisation, poorer peer transitions. Further analysis of the impact of school and peer transitions on well‐being and attainment revealed that each had specific independent effects both within and beyond secondary education. At age 15, a poorer school transition predicted higher levels of depression and lower attainment; a poorer peer transition, lower self‐esteem, more depression and lower levels of anti‐social behaviour. Although reduced in size, similar results extended to outcomes at age 18/19. These effects bear comparison with those associated with gender and school disengagement, clearly demonstrating the importance of successful transition for later well‐being and attainment.
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Children with autism are frequently observed to experience difficulties in sensory processing. This study examined specific patterns of sensory processing in 54 children with autistic disorder and their association with adaptive behavior. Model-based cluster analysis revealed three distinct sensory processing subtypes in autism. These subtypes were differentiated by taste and smell sensitivity and movement-related sensory behavior. Further, sensory processing subtypes predicted communication competence and maladaptive behavior. The findings of this study lay the foundation for the generation of more specific hypotheses regarding the mechanisms of sensory processing dysfunction in autism, and support the continued use of sensory-based interventions in the remediation of communication and behavioral difficulties in autism.
Background Though research has identified that increasing numbers of pupils with Down syndrome (DS) in the UK are educated in mainstream schools, little detailed information about the educational experiences of pupils with DS is available. Aims This study explored parent views of the educational experiences of pupils with DS attending UK schools (Reception-Year 11) using an online survey. Methods and procedures Responses from 569 parents were collected. Outcomes and results Overall, 65 % of pupils were in mainstream schools but this was more common at primary (80 %) than secondary school (37 %). Pupils participated in most academic and social activities alongside their peers but were commonly not accessing all opportunities. Many pupils received additional support in school including external professional services. Frequent meetings between parents and teachers/teaching assistants indicated high levels of collaboration. Teachers and teaching assistants were largely viewed as responsible for children’s learning. Overall, respondents reported satisfaction with provision. Conclusions and implications Many pupils with DS in the UK are able to access a broad and balanced curriculum but this is not the case for all. Ways in which provision can be enhanced are discussed.
Aim: Sensory processing impairments are well characterized in children with neurodevelopmental disorders, particularly autism, and have been associated with maladaptive behaviors. However, little is known regarding sensory processing difficulties within Down syndrome, or how these difficulties may influence maladaptive behavior. This study aims to characterize sensory processing difficulties within the Down syndrome phenotype and determine the influence of processing difficulties on maladaptive behavior. Methods: To explore this issue, we administered the Short Sensory Profile and the Developmental Behavior Checklist to parents or primary caregivers of young children with DS (N = 49; M nonverbal mental age (NVMA) = 30.92 months (SD = 12.30); M chronological age (CA) = 67.04 (SD = 25.13). Results: Results indicated that Low Energy/Weak, Under-responsive/Seeks Sensation, and Auditory Filtering were the areas of greatest sensory regulation difficulty, and that Self-Absorbed behavior and Disruptive/Antisocial behavior were elevated areas of maladaptive behavior. Multivariate regression analyses indicated that Under-responsive/Seeks Sensation was the only sensory regulation domain significantly associated with Self-Absorbed and Disruptive/Antisocial behavior. Conclusion: Findings indicate a consistent pattern of sensory processing impairments and associations with maladaptive behavior in children with DS. Implications for interventions are discussed.
Is there an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) cognitive profile, i.e. a consistent, disorder-specific pattern of cognitive peaks and troughs found in a substantial proportion of people with ASD? Almost all research into ASD cognition is not designed to answer this question, as studies tend to focus on specific aspects of cognition without providing a broad picture across multiple cognitive domains and because results are reported as group trends without sufficient attention to individual patterns of performance. Thus, it is not currently known whether there is an ASD cognitive profile. To fill this gap in the literature, there is a need for multiple single-case study designs, which investigate individual patterns of relative peaks and troughs across diverse cognitive tests for multiple participants. We illustrate this approach using data from the 10 subtests of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children - fourth edition (WISC-IV), in a sample of 104 young people with an ASD. Initial group level analyses suggested that, on average, people with ASD have relative strengths in WISC-IV tasks requiring non-timed abstract reasoning and relative weaknesses in processing speed and comprehension. However, these group level findings did not consistently apply to individual participants: only 1 person in the sample of 104 had an individual profile that reflected the group level pattern of strengths and weaknesses. Nevertheless, non-specific variability was common, with 76% of the sample showing significant peaks and troughs in performance on the WISC-IV subtests, raising the possibility that a key characteristic of ASD is unpredictable cognitive heterogeneity, characterized by relative strengths as well as difficulties.
Successful transition from primary to secondary school is important for psychosocial well-being. Children with special educational needs (SEN) may face additional complexities at transition, although the impact of this process on children's psychosocial adjustment has been underexplored. The article aims to review systematically the literature exploring the impact of transition on the concerns and psychosocial adjustment of children with SEN in comparison to typically developing children. Published studies were identified through a systematic search of six electronic databases. Articles fulfilling inclusion criteria were reviewed and a quality criteria system was developed to rank studies. Children with specific learning difficulties perceive lower levels of social support and more peer victimisation after transition than typically developing children, but methodological limitations and the modest number of studies restricted the conclusions that could be drawn.
This study explores factors that influence decisions about transition and what works for children with Down’s syndrome transferring from primary to secondary school. Qualitative data were collected using semi-structured interviews to gain the views of support staff and parents of two children with Down’s syndrome. One parent had chosen mainstream secondary school and was negotiating the transition, whilst the other was making decisions around future placement. The Voice of the Child (VoC) was elicited using rating scales. Thematic analysis revealed practical and ideological insights into transition, highlighting the need for parental involvement, planned transition and recognition of the individual needs of the child. The educational and social implications of these findings are considered along with directions for future research.
ABSTRACT Down syndrome (DS) is the most common chromosomal cause of intellectual disability. The genetic causes of DS are associated with characteristic outcomes, such as relative strengths in visual-spatial skills and relative challenges in motor planning. This profile of outcomes, called the DS behavioral phenotype, may be a critical tool for intervention planning and research in this population. In this article, aspects of the DS behavioral phenotype potentially relevant to occupational therapy practice are reviewed. Implications and challenges for etiology-informed research and practice are discussed.
Recent advances are reviewed in understanding the heightened prevalence of psychopathology and maladaptive behavior among children with intellectual disability. Researchers have traditionally emphasized measurement and prevalence issues, using either psychiatric assessments or rating scales to identify the prevalence of various problems in children with intellectual disability. Yet the time is ripe to shift directions, and identify more precisely why children are at increased risk for psychopathology to begin with. Although several “biopsycho-social” hypotheses are reviewed, a particularly promising line of work links psychopathology to genetic intellectual disability syndromes. Psychiatric vulnerabilities in several syndromes are reviewed, as are the advantages of phenotypic work for understanding psychopathology among children with intellectual disability more generally.
This study surveyed 291 parents of children with Down syndrome about their satisfaction with their child's current educational program, as well as their desire and reasons for considering change. Perceptions were compared across age, current educational placement, ethnicity, and mother's educational level. Parents of younger children, children currently enrolled in both early intervention and general education, and mothers with an education beyond a bachelor's degree were more satisfied with their children's current programs. Parents of children in general education were least likely to want a program change. Wanting change centered on seven themes: the approach of a school transition point, the desire for greater inclusion, placement in a neighborhood school, the need for additional services and support, influences of peers, parents' financial resources, and ongoing information acquisition/decision-making issues.
Although individuals with disabilities are at increased risk of victimization, few studies examine persons with different disability conditions to determine whether distinctive cognitive-behavioral profiles are associated with different levels of social vulnerability. To determine the differences in social vulnerability and experiences of victimization, caregiver responses to a Social Vulnerability Questionnaire were examined for 103 caregivers of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Williams syndrome (WS), and Down syndrome (DS). Although all three groups experienced similar rates and types of victimization, the specific correlates of social vulnerability differed by disability. Individuals with ASD displayed less risk awareness and had less social protection; those with WS were rated higher on risk factors related to perceived vulnerability and parental independence; and those with DS had less risk awareness and were perceived to be more vulnerable. Safety interventions should be tailored to address each group's specific correlates of social vulnerability.
This longitudinal study of adolescents in the first year of secondary school, examined the relationship between psychological functioning at the beginning of year 7 (mean age 11.25 years) with attainment at the end of year 7 (mean age 11.78 years). Depressive symptoms, school liking and conduct problems predicted lower attainment across time having controlled for the temporal stability in psychological functioning and attainment. School concerns predicted lower attainment for boys only, and the effects of depressive symptoms on later attainment were significantly stronger for boys compared to girls. School liking - and school concerns for boys - remained significant predictors of attainment when controlling for conduct problems. The transition to secondary school may represent a window of opportunity for developing interventions aimed at improving both pupil psychological functioning and attainment.
Over the past 2 decades, the number and types of programs available for young children has increased. As a result, the transition of young children with disabilities has become more complex, resulting in an increasing need for improved transition processes for both children and their families. The literature in early childhood transition contains evidence of the organizational complexities and resulting problems experienced by children, families, and professionals who provide services. Recent research in transition has provided valuable information about the individual variables that impact this complex transition process. Given some of the distinguishing characteristics of the transition process for young children with disabilities and their families, there is a need for a conceptual framework that will guide new research, provide an organizational framework to integrate the current literature in transition, and begin to lay a foundation for improving transitions and the outcomes for children. This article presents a conceptual framework that describes how the complex interactions of multiple factors influence the transition process for young children with disabilities during the early childhood years. This ecological framework is based on the premise that the ultimate goal of a successful transition process is the child's entry and success in the primary school program.
The transition from the primary to secondary phase of education has been highlighted as an area of concern for policy makers, educators and researchers alike in recent years. In particular, there is evidence to suggest that it is during this crucial phase of compulsory education that many pupils are at risk of becoming marginalized and disaffected- thus, it is a salient topic for consideration in the broader discourse on inclusive education. The current paper reports on the attempts of a secondary school in the north-west of England to facilitate the learning, participation and psychological adjustment of new pupils through an innovative process called Transition Club. Using participant observations, questionnaires and a focus group interview we examined the views of 38 pupils who participated in its pilot. Qualitative content analysis of our dataset indicated that Transition Club was successful in providing pupils with a sense of belonging, helping them to navigate the 'maze' of secondary school, and making learning fun. There was also evidence to suggest that pupils who did not participate directly also experienced some of the benefits of the process.
This study compared the fears and behavior problems of 25 children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), 43 children with Down syndrome (DS), 45 mental age (MA) matched children, and 37 chronologically age (CA) matched children. Children's fears, phobias, anxieties and behavioral problems were assessed using parent reports. Significant differences emerged across the diagnostic groups on a variety of fears. Children with ASD were reported to have more situation phobias and medical fears, but fewer fears of harm/injury compared to all other groups. The groups also differed in terms of the pattern of correlations between fears, phobias, anxieties and behavior problems. For children with ASD, fears, phobias and anxieties were closely related to problem behaviors, whereas fears, phobias, and anxieties were less related to behavioral symptoms for the other groups of subjects. Such findings suggest that children with ASD exhibit a distinct profile of fear and anxiety compared to other mental age and chronologically age-matched children, and these fears are related to the symptoms associated with ASD.
Of the recent advances in education-related research in Down syndrome, the characterization of the Down syndrome behavioral phenotype has become a potentially critical tool for shaping education and intervention in this population. This article briefly reviews the literature on brain-behavior connections in Down syndrome and identifies aspects of the Down syndrome behavioral phenotype that are potentially relevant to educators. Potential challenges to etiologically informed educational planning are discussed.
The genetic disorder Williams syndrome (WS) is associated with a propulsion towards social stimuli and interactions with people. In contrast, the neuro-developmental disorder autism is characterised by social withdrawal and lack of interest in socially relevant information. Using eye-tracking techniques we investigate how individuals with these two neuro-developmental disorders associated with distinct social characteristics view scenes containing people. The way individuals with these disorders view social stimuli may impact upon successful social interactions and communication. Whilst individuals with autism spend less time than is typical viewing people and faces in static pictures of social interactions, the opposite is apparent for those with WS whereby exaggerated fixations are prevalent towards the eyes. The results suggest more attention should be drawn towards understanding the implications of atypical social preferences in WS, in the same way that attention has been drawn to the social deficits associated with autism.
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