Author Identifier

Christina Holly

Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education

First Supervisor

Dawn Penney

Second Supervisor

John O'Rourke


Communication is vital for effective partnerships and quality relationships between stakeholders supporting secondary students on the autism spectrum (AS) who experience many challenges upon their transition to secondary school: multiple teachers, diverse student cohorts, unstructured breaks, noisy classrooms and unpredictable changes to routines. Successful outcomes for students are more likely if supporting stakeholders collaborate with open communication channels.

This qualitative two-phase study is underpinned by the value-creation framework for social learning, developed by Wenger-Trayner and Wenger-Trayner (2020), which emphasises that all community members, regardless of their perceived community competence or experience, can add value to forming community solutions. Phase One explored the collaborative communication practices from the perspectives of school leaders, teachers, education assistants (EAs), allied health professionals (AHPs) and young adults on the AS, who reflected on their school experience. Recruited by purposive sampling, Phase One participants engaged in focus group discussions and interviews. Phase Two purposively recruited two case-study schools to explore collaborative communication practices within their learning community. The factors enabling and disabling collaborative communication between the stakeholders supporting students were examined from Phase One and Two findings. Phase One found that school leaders and teachers were primarily involved in communication conduits, with EAs, parents, and AHPs rarely included. Parents relied on EAs for their information. Young adults on the AS identified parents and EAs as their key advocates during school and recollected minimal teacher support. Phase Two yielded similar findings. School leaders made community decisions autonomously, with limited consultation with teachers, school psychologists, parents and EAs; students were not involved. Principals and deputies relegated the responsibility for students on the AS to education support leaders without following the protocol guiding the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data (NCCD) for students with disability. Burdened by providing learning adjustments, EAs felt undervalued and disappointed by teachers’ lack of engagement with students on the AS. Teachers were struggling, with insufficient time and no extra assistance and required more autism-specific professional learning. Parents were frustrated by the lack of communication between school stakeholders and relied on the EAs for information. School psychologists received information retrospectively, with no one accessing their expertise.

Further research should focus on stakeholder perspectives, including parents and students, on collaborative ways to create a shared vision for the entire learning community. Investigating how secondary schools can make time and space for invested participants to partake in social learning can encourage stakeholders to experience an agency of participation, increasing their investment in translating, framing and evaluating the value created within social learning space. Autismspecific professional learning is best delivered within a classroom context and is essential for teachers throughout their career trajectory, including pre-service teacher education. Finally, critical decision makers, such as school leaders, departmental policy makers and state and federal legislators, must remain mindful that inclusive education offerings and reasonable adjustments for students on the AS are not a choice but the law.



Included in

Education Commons