School of Education


Doctor of Philosophy in Education (PhD)


Gail Collins


high-functioning autism, classroom placement, parent experiences


Elementary Education | Special Education and Teaching


The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study is to explore the experiences and challenges of parents as they choose an appropriate classroom setting for their child with highfunctioning autism spectrum disorder (HFASD) at an elementary school. Parents of students with HFASD must grapple with this decision each year at their child’s annual IEP review meeting. The theory guiding this study is Knowles’ adult learning theory. Adult learning theory states that adults use both their personal experiences and intrinsic motivation to discover information that they need to make a decision. Ten parents of elementary-aged children diagnosed with HFASD were selected as participants in this study in an attempt to combine their shared experiences with this phenomenon. The data collected for this research included interviews, participant journals, and a focus group. Data analysis followed van Manen’s hermeneutic circle. In hermeneutic phenomenology, the focus is on the researcher’s interactions with the data. The themes found in this study were the prior experiences of parents, successful outcomes for students with HFASD, level of functioning, and personal factors. Ultimately, the findings of the study revealed that parents of students with HFASD feel like they are equal partners with the IEP team but have a varying degree of confidence in their role as decision-makers. The full experience of the parents including their thought processes, challenges, and opinions were extracted from the data collection process. These findings show a strong connection to the Knowles adult learning theory.