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Prospective Study


Growing up is challenging, but for children and young people with specific language difficulties or autism spectrum disorders (ASD) there are additional challenges and barriers. Sometimes these challenges arise because of the nature of the difficulties that the children are experiencing with language or social communication but they also occur because educational and social settings may not be adequately attuned to the needs of these groups of children. It is also the case that at certain key transitions, such as from primary to secondary school, additional challenges arise. This work stream is designed to identify factors that support the educational and socioemotional outcomes for children with specific language difficulties and ASD.

The overlap and differences between these two groups raise significant challenges for professionals. Information is needed to distinguish the similarities and differences between the special educational needs of the children, in terms of learning environments and behavioural and language support, as well as to establish the effects of these on both educational and psychosocial outcomes. Such information will help parents and teachers plan to meet the children’s needs in an effective and efficient manner.


We have designed a study to examine the developmental pathways of the two groups of pupils across primary and secondary school. We will be identifying children at different age points so we can trace factors which impact on the children’s development, at home, school and more widely. By using this design we will be able to examine age differences and cohort effects across the time of the study.

Four different developmental age cohorts of pupils in mainstream schools will be identified to capture overlapping phases of education (Year 1, 3, 5, and 7). This will allow data collection over the years from pupils from Year 1 to Year 9. The aim is to triangulate pupil data with data on educational support and interventions, and teacher and parent evaluations of progress and problems. Findings from the ‘Best evidence’ work stream 1 will be used to categorise the types of support and intervention accessed; furthermore, findings regarding known effectiveness of different programmes will enable an interpretation of the value of the intervention received.

Data will be collected on academic achievement; personal development and social development. Data will include standardised measures of performance and academic achievement linked to NPD data and teacher assessments. Personal development will include pupils’ increasing independence and ability to organise themselves. Social development will consider pupils’ relationships and behaviour in a variety of situations including school and home. We will also collect data on the services provided and used by the children.


The comparison between the two different cohorts allows the collection of empirical data to address clinical and educational claims about the differential impact of children’s primary special educational needs on schools and services. This will result in

 1. Better understanding of contexts which support the Every Child Matters Outcomes

 2. Identification of factors which enhance positive outcomes

 3. Key issues to inform the practice and research agenda for pupils with Specific language difficulties and ASD