Irish Government updates its policy on autism provision in schools

Interventions to support children and young people on the autism spectrum are a rapidly developing area.

However, research in this area has not been systematically drawn together to inform our understanding of what might work best in schools.


Educating Persons with
Autistic Spectrum Disorder –
A Systematic Literature Review - report cover

An innovative review of literature and policy has identified a number of interventions which appear to be more effective in education settings and features of educational policies which enable these interventions to be utilised effectively.

In Ireland and many other countries a significant and increasing amount of money is spent on the education of pupils on the autism spectrum. The aim of this research was to ensure that the most promising and effective interventions are being adopted.

This research was commissioned by the National Council for Special Education, Ireland as part of a review of educational provision for children and young people on the autism spectrum. The research has informed new policy guidance and is in the process of being implemented nationally and locally.

The research will enable commissioners to identify and fund a continuum of provision that is responsive to need. It will help schools to adopt interventions which are evidence-based and most likely to be effective, and also underpins a professional development framework for all staff working with children and young people on the autism spectrum.

Our research

Our research team worked with a group of key stakeholders involved in the education of children and young people with autism in Ireland to plan the research. A systematic review of the research published between 2008-2013 was undertaken.

From over 6000 research articles the team identified 85 as meeting stringent criteria for inclusion in the review.  These criteria focused on the quality of the research and how effective the intervention was in school settings. The 85 studies were categorised into type of intervention, enabling the amount of evidence to support different interventions to be evaluated.  

In addition to the systematic review of literature, international experts on autism education were consulted about autism education in their country / state resulting in five country case studies. These case studies demonstrated similarities and differences in legislative frameworks relating to autism education and factors which facilitate good practice.  Additionally, 15 international autism policies and guidance documents were analysed in order to identify how research and best practice inform policy.

Key findings

  • The research identified interventions which have the most and moderate evidence for pre-school and school aged children. These interventions are most likely to target social skills, behaviour and communication and are included in NCSE’s list of 34 evidence based interventions.
  • Autism provision varies between countries / states; aspects of good practice identified include, clear policy advice and staff development frameworks, a range of provision and systems for funding interventions.
  • Aspects of policy which support implementation of interventions and best practice included recommendation of specific evidence based interventions and guidance on collaborative planning for individual children and young people.
  • Gaps in the evidence base and future directions for research were also identified, particularly the need for more detailed policy advice and collaborative research with schools.

Key people

Project partners

  • National Council for Special Education, Ireland

Further information

A journal article based on the report is available: