Adolescents with cerebral palsy: Transition to high school

In Brief © Fiona Jones, Sylvia Rodger, Jenny Ziviani, Roslyn Boyd, Cheryl Missiuna, 2012

Why research this topic?

Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common cause of physical disability in children. The literature helps in understanding the things that affect children with CP in moving from preschool to primary school and from school to post-secondary options. There is, however, no research on issues related to moving from primary to secondary school, an important change for all children. This transition point, which occurs at the same time as the early years of adolescence, has been found to affect academic results and self-esteem in young people with physical disabilities (Specht et al., 2007).

What was done?

Over a period of 13 months, eleven sets of parents/adolescents with CP participated in a study which covered the period from the end of primary school to three-quarters of the way through the first year of high school.

Information about the families was collected through phone or face-to-face interviews with parents and adolescents. Additional demographic information was obtained through a written survey.

What was found:

  • Transition to secondary school was successful for almost all participants, with the experience being more challenging for adolescents where their disability was not easily noticeable.
  • Transition to secondary school appeared to be a significant life event for both adolescents with CP and their parents.
  • The main decisions that families had to make related to their choice of secondary school, which parents saw as primarily their responsibility. Things that parents considered included: the experiences their adolescent had had at primary school, the social skills of their adolescent, the availability of resources and experienced staff at the potential secondary school, the perceived ability of the school to be inclusive, and the apparent 'fit' between the adolescent and the school.
  • The parent role changed considerably when their child entered secondary school and communication between the school and parents played an important role in the success of transition.
  • Coping with fatigue, transport, changing uniforms, carrying uniforms, equipment and materials, and the need for preparation strategies were raised during the initial transition experience as pertinent factors.
  • The ability of the adolescent with CP to be included within the secondary school community was related to his/her ability to cope with the social, sporting and academic aspects of secondary school. The transition to secondary school was influenced by various factors, including preparation, social inclusion and adequate communication between parents and teachers.

Resources developed after completion of study

Three flyers were developed based on the results of this study that can be used as tools during the transition to high school process:

Want to know more?


  • Australian Postgraduate Award Scholarship
  • Queensland Children's Medical Research Institute "Top Up" scholarship


Specht, J., Howell, G., & Young, G. (2007). Students with special education needs in Canada and their use of assistive technology during the transition to secondary school. Childhood Education (International Focus Issue), 385-389.