Academic journal article International Education Studies

The Closeness of Fit: Towards an Ecomap for the Inclusion of Pupils with ASD in Mainstream Schools

Academic journal article International Education Studies

The Closeness of Fit: Towards an Ecomap for the Inclusion of Pupils with ASD in Mainstream Schools

Article excerpt


The number of pupils with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who join mainstream schools in the UK has been increasing over the last decade. Given the difficulties in social and emotional understanding which these children have, their inclusion in schools is likely to be challenging. Their ASD-related manifestations, moreover, tend to allow for tensions to arise between them and the different systems of the school ecology. We examine the inclusion of these pupils from a developmental-systems perspective as articulated by the bio-ecological and the transactional models. Using data from a qualitative research project which explored the effect of autism-related difficulties in social and emotional understanding on the inclusion of 17 pupils with ASD the study describes the working dynamic of the arising tensions at the micro-system level. The study outlines an ecopmap of the nested structures at the micro-, meso-, exo-, macro- and chrono-systems which may facilitate or impede the children's inclusion.

Keywords: pupils with ASD, inclusion, bioecological model, transactional model, developmental systems theory

1. Introduction

1.1 Introduce the Problem

The number of educated children with ASD in mainstream schools has been increasing in the UK over the last decade (National Autistic Society (NAS), 2002, 2003). Despite their relatively high intellectual and linguistic capabilities these children retain most of the ASD-related impairments including impairment in social interaction, deviant or bizarre communication, persistent patterns of restricted and stereotyped behaviour and interests (Jordan, 1999), and difficulties in social and emotional understanding (Downs & Smith, 2004). Given that emotions which occur in academic activities and known as academic emotions relate to pupils' learning and social outcomes (Goetz et al., 2008; Goetz et al., 2006), pupils with ASD are prone to struggle with regard to expression and recognition of such emotions, thereby minimizing the opportunity for effective interaction with peers and teachers (Hay et al., 2004; Rogers, 2000). Several scholars have argued that the ASD-related difficulties can have a negative impact on the participation and social outcomes of those pupils in mainstream schools (Humphrey, 2008; Jaher et al., 2007; Batten, 2005). In a seminal article, the author has shown elsewhere that the ASD-related difficulties in social and emotional understanding play a key role in inducing tensions which permeate the different aspects comprising the school ecosystem (i.e. peers, teachers, support, the school context) (see Emam & Farrell, 2009). Since the publication of this article which analyzed the tensions experienced by teachers as a result of the inclusion of pupils with ASD, it has been cited several times by scholars investigating the provision of inclusive education for those pupils (e.g. Symes & Humphrey, 2012; Parsons et al., 2011; Henderson, 2011). This has been an incentive to analyze the same data that was used in the article in addition to some related data that was not made use of in order to envisage a map for decreasing the tensions and enabling a better inclusive educational provision for children with ASD.

The traditional model of looking at ASD-related difficulties and the ensuing tensions has often focused on the children's deficiencies, assuming that such deficiencies restrict their opportunities for fitting into a social context such as that of the school (Emam & Farrell, 2009; Wing, 1988, 1996). This focus led to the development of services and professional practices that struggle to meet the needs of those children (Billington, 2006). This traditional model, moreover, has been boosted by a number of psychological theories of autism which provided either "top-down" or "bottom up" explanations (Loveland, 2001). Top-down explanations such as the Theory of Mind (ToM) ability, which refers to the individual's ability to attribute mental states such as beliefs, feelings, and desires to oneself and others (Baron-Cohen, 2000), focus on cognitive deficits in the mind. …

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