Giving Autistic Students a Voice: What do you think of your school?


We are delighted to invite you to attend our next event where Stella Koiliari and Monique de Comarmond (researchers at Tizard Centre, University of Kent, UK) will be presenting their work looking at experiences of autistic students in mainstream and special education schools. Background: There is currently a highly topical debate between mainstream and special education. Not many studies have looked at the experiences of autistic students themselves and how these could influence their sense of self. Based on this, two distinct studies were conducted: one in mainstream and one in special education. Both studies however, had a common goal: to investigate the experiences of Autistic students within their educational provisions. Methodology: Overall, 12 autistic students were interviewed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Half of them attended special education settings and the other half attended mainstream schools. Findings: autistic students in special education perceived their school as a place of acceptance, understanding and belonging. They also presented their perceptions of normality and how society can negatively impact upon them. Combined, these experiences assisted with them understanding their own identity and how others understand them. Findings from mainstream education suggest that students tended to form their identity by internalising the feedback received from teachers or peers and by engaging in social comparisons. Students mostly shared negative experiences and used negative terms to describe themselves. However, they negotiated their identity based on the acceptance they received from the school. Implications of the findings: Both studies highlight the importance of research giving autistic individuals a voice. The educational environment - including teachers’ and peers’ knowledge and understanding of autism - is crucial for the development of a positive sense of self and more positive educational experiences.

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