Outcomes and life experiences in adulthood of children who attended Dawn House School

This is a summary of the following research article:

Clegg J, Ansorge L, Stackhouse J and Donlan C (2012) Developmental communication impairments in adults: outcomes and life experiences of the adults and their parents LSHSS in press

 

Introduction

This study looks at outcomes and life experiences in adulthood of children who attended a residential special school for children with severe and complex speech, language and communication needs (SLCN).

 

Method

26 adult ex-pupils who had attended the school and 15 of their parents were interviewed. Both interviews looked at different areas of social and emotional functioning.

 

Results

Outcomes for pupils – these were varied but generally more positive than previous studies

  • All ex-pupils went on to further study and held either educational or vocational qualifications, with the highest being an undergraduate university degree
  • Most pupils were in employment. Only five of the 26 ex-pupils had never been in paid employment since leaving full time study and three of these were currently in voluntary positions
  • Most ex-pupils were still living in the parental home, at this was not unusual amongst the peer group
  • Most ex-pupils had friends. Only four of the 26 ex-pupils reported having no real friends or being part of a friendship group, with 11 being either married or in a relationship

Life experiences - Seven key themes were identified from the data

  1. Lack of appropriate support and the impact of this in early childhood

 Early mainstream education was a negative experience for ex-pupils and their parents. Access to speech and language therapy services was variable and gaining educational statements was an onerous task for parents. This resulted in feelings of isolation, frustration and exhaustion.

 

  1. The advantages and disadvantages of specialist educational provision compared to mainstream and other provision

The ex-pupils expressed positive views about their experience of specialist educational provision. Friendships were perceived much more positively. They did not like being away from the family home despite the extra independence experience it gave them.

For parents positive experiences – especially the focus on speech and language being central to learning and socialising - outweighed the significant challenges of their child boarding at a school away from home.

 

  1. The changing impact of developmental communication impairments over time

Many ex-pupils did not understand the diagnosis they had been given, instead identifying the difficulties they had with e.g. reading or remembering. In adulthood, they did not see their difficulties as detrimental to their lives.

In contrast, parents all reported continuing difficulties in their children’s adult life and saw them as a barrier in terms of gaining and managing employment and initiating and maintaining relationships.

 

  1. The challenging transition away from specialist educational provision

All ex-pupils left school to go to some type of mainstream further education college. The transition back to the family home and to college proved challenging for both the ex-pupils and the parents, and required some adjustment. For some this resulted in a loss of important friendships and social networks.

For parents, supporting their adolescent children through difficult times at mainstream college was challenging.

 

  1. The absence of appropriate support for adults with developmental communication impairments

Whilst the ex-pupils and the parents felt supported at the specialist residential school, this changed once they left and made the transition to mainstream post 16 years education – particularly support for their specific communication needs. Any support offered was very general and not specific to language dfficulties.

 

  1. The persisting impact of developmental communication impairments on social and emotional functioning in adult life

Ex-pupils reported some difficulties with aspects of work such as difficulty learning new vocabulary specific to work. However, aspects such as independence, friendships, talking in public were not a problem.

In contrast, parents described difficulties with employment, independent living, and relationships which they saw as being a consequence of their continuing communication difficulties. Social isolation was a concern for the parents due to the ex-pupils finding it difficult to initiate and maintain friendships.

 

  1. The differences in perspective between the adult ex-pupils and their parents

Many views expressed by parents and ex-pupils were similar. However, ex-pupils much less concerned than their parents about the impact of ongoing difficulties with speech, language and communication.

 

Implications

  • Educational provision needs to be able to meet the specific needs of children and adolescents with severe long-term SLCN,  beyond primary schools into secondary schools and post 16 education.
  • Specialist schools have a role to play in this – organised locally, young people would find the transition to further education and work easier
  • There are clear benefits to specialist support, these need to be incorporated into mainstream educational provision through additional training and support for educational professionals.
  • The impact of severe and complex SLCN changes over time. In adult life, there is more need for support with functional life skills such as gaining and maintaining employment and independence.
  • The lack of awareness of SLCN restricts access to appropriate support in adult life.
  • It is important to get the views of adults with SLCN themselves rather than relying on others as their perceptions may be very different from how they are perceived by others.

 

Conclusions

In conclusion, children and adults with complex and long-term SLCN require extensive support through childhood and adult life. This support should enable them to achieve their educational potential and manage the demands of adult life.

The perceived benefits of early intervention, parental support, specialist educational provision, and guidance at times of transitions should inform current service provision for this vulnerable group of individuals and their families.