How do children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) enrolled in special ASD classes in mainstream primary schools make sense of themselves and their educational experiences? Child, parent and teacher insights?
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Aims: School is a site of critical importance in the construction of sense of self. A corpus of qualitative literature indicates that adolescent students with ASD attending mainstream schools often construe themselves as “different” to typically-developing peers in a negative sense. However, the voice of younger children and those enrolled in special ASD educational provision is largely absent from this qualitative research base. The current study explores how children with ASD, aged eight to twelve years, enrolled in special ASD classes in Irish primary schools, make sense of themselves and their school experiences. Design & Methodology: An exploratory multiple-case study design was adopted involving five child-parent-teacher triads, with the individual child defined as the “case” or unit of analysis. Interviews with children were mediated via an accessible “Talking Mat” pictorial communication technique and semi-structured interviews were conducted with parents and teachers. Results: Adopting an experiential approach which foregrounds personal meaning for participants, data was analysed using a multi-perspectival interpretative phenomenological analysis [IPA] (Larkin et al., 2019). Patterns of convergence and divergence were identified in cross-case synthesis. Master themes related to the child’s lived school experience include complex friendship dynamics, a supportive learning environment and navigating the learning process. Master themes related to the child’s sense of self include pockets of positive self appraisal, a questioning versus an unquestioning self and the impact of inclusive practice. Conclusions: The research addresses an identified gap in the literature by privileging the voice of the primary school-aged child with ASD attending special class provision and eliciting focal perspectives of key adults in the child’s world. In doing so, the research builds an empirical knowledge base about lived experiences within an expanding model of partial inclusion in Ireland- the special ASD class in the mainstream school. Based on the research findings, implications are presented for educational policy and practice and future research directions.
Sense of self