Attitudes of Students and Teaching Staff regarding the Integration of High Functioning Autistic Students in the Higher Education System in Israel

By Davidovitch, Nitza; Ponomareva, Elena et al. | International Journal of Child Health and Human Development, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Attitudes of Students and Teaching Staff regarding the Integration of High Functioning Autistic Students in the Higher Education System in Israel


Davidovitch, Nitza, Ponomareva, Elena, Shapiro, Yair, International Journal of Child Health and Human Development


Introduction

In recent years, Israel has been undergoing a process of change in its attitude towards people with autistic spectrum disorders. The most important progress is evident in the recognition of their basic right to a full and productive life, a life of self-fulfillment and integration into all aspects of society, as opposed to remaining on the periphery of society. A clear manifestation of this trend is the Law of Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities 1998. The Equal Rights Law defines both the rights of those with disabilities and the obligation of Israeli society to protect those rights. In the last decades a similar transition has occurred in most developed countries around the world. An example of this is the International Convention of the United Nations, signed in 2006, that deals with the rights of persons with disabilities. Israel approved the Convention in September of 2012, when in fact it had already included its principles earlier, as part of the Law of Equal Rights.

Higher education is a necessary tool for developing a society and creating and transmitting the knowledge that shapes it. As the key to the individual's social and vocational integration, it is of utmost importance to make the higher education system in Israel accessible. Creating an accessible campus for students, teachers, workers, and visitors is dependent not only on making it easy to travel to, move in, and find one's way around it, but also on enabling full and equal access to all the services it offers.

Some Israeli universities, such as Ariel University, feel obligated to meet the needs of groups of students on the autistic spectrum and to allow them to reach their full potential. This research project offers information on the various services and human assistance offered by the university, as well as by public institutions and community nonprofit organizations, in order to maximize accessibility and integration into student life.

The high functioning autistic student - Asperger syndrome

Asperger syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) considered to be on the "high functioning" end of the spectrum. The main difference between Asperger syndrome and autism is that the former better preserves linguistic skills, while still demonstrating pragmatic deficiencies, the absence of non-verbal facial expressions, clumsy behavior, and "special" narrow and idiosyncratic fields of interest (1). On the one hand, Asperger Syndrome is characterized by impairment and restrictions in the fields of interpersonal communication, social interaction, and adaptation, as well as expressions of imagination. On the other, there is normal development in language acquisition and usage, cognitive capability (some individuals with Asperger syndrome are exceptionally gifted in mathematical calculations, writing, or drawing), adaptive behavior (except for social interaction), interest, and curiosity (for the most part exaggerated and obsessive and focusing on a narrow activity or field).

Students with Asperger syndrome can also achieve erratic and irregular results on educational and psychological testing. A student with autism or Asperger syndrome may be a "math whiz" in algebra, but unable to make simple change at a cash register. Or, he or she may have an astonishing memory for statistics or prose, but forget to bring his or her supplies to class day after day. "Uneven skills development is a hallmark of autism" (2).

Research on students with high functioning autism shows that the majority are interested in learning but only a few actually learn. They, themselves, mention obstacles such as difficulty coping with the social aspects of studying and lack of confidence (3).

Integration into higher education

Integration is a psychological concept that refers to the establishment of a connection between an individual with special needs and a "normative" person. In this research project, we deal with integration that increases the inclusion and involvement of the special needs student in the social and academic life of the university. …

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