Enablers and barriers to inclusion for learners with autism: Listening to the voice of mothers from differing social class positions

Year: 2019

Author: MAVROPOULOU, SOFIA, Zissi, Anastasia, Dardani, Christina

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Background of the study: Despite the steadily growing number of students with autism in inclusive environments worldwide, our knowledge on the experiences of parents from differing social class positions on their children’s journey for inclusion remains unexplored.

Significance/aims of the research: The significance of the study lies in its aim to explore how social class position may influence the experience of parents on their children’s inclusion and their learning experiences.

Research design: Drawing from a large-scale qualitative study, individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with 13 mothers (Mage= 40.6yrs) from the working class and 10 mothers (Mage = 44yrs) with high-credentials; all participants had children (age range: 48-207 months) with autism enrolled in inclusive environments in Greece. A layered approach (content analysis and template thematic analysis) was applied to the interview transcripts and revealed interesting similarities and differences among mothers from differing social class positions.

Findings and educational research implications: Irrespective of their social class position, the majority of mothers identified similar social, personal and contextual factors which facilitated or hindered the inclusion of their children in school. Specifically, the role of teachers with sufficient knowledge and experience on autism, their positive attitude towards diversity combined with in-class support seemed to be instrumental in their children’s inclusion. Furthermore, mothers who were actively engaged in their children’s learning at school, had built effective partnerships with classroom teachers and support staff as well as positive interactions with other parents in the same school shared positive experiences of inclusion. In contrast, mothers who had interactions with teachers with limited understanding of autism and inadequate in-class support, had experienced exclusion from regular schools, which constitutes violation of the national policy for inclusive education. Interestingly, a prevailing theme across participants was the critical role of in-class support staff for the acceptance of their children from their peers, the effective management of bullying incidents and ultimately the success of inclusion. However, mothers from the working class emphasised the negative implications of unavailable government-funded in-class support, in contrast to mothers in higher social class positions who were able to overcome financial barriers to their children’s enrolment and participation by providing private in-class support. These findings highlight the need to consider the experience of inclusion in conjunction with contextual and socio-economic factors which influence the quality of support for learners with autism in inclusive environments with consequences on family quality of life.