Teacher attitudes and the social inclusion of students with asperger syndrome

Cathy Little

PhD thesis, conferred in 2015

Asperger Syndrome is a pervasive developmental disorder, characterised by impairments relating to social interaction, communication skills, executive functioning, and atypical or repetitive behaviours. Students with Asperger Syndrome therefore, may demonstrate little awareness of critical social understandings, and lack the ability to pick up on social cues, which serves to set them apart from their same aged peers. For the majority of students with Asperger Syndrome in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, their schooling takes place within regular classes, placed with ‘regular’ students, and with teachers who often have limited experience or knowledge about this specific disability. Little, if any, consideration is given to these students specialised social needs when they are placed in regular education classrooms.

Using a mixed methods design of survey and embedded case studies, the relationship between teacher attitudes and the social inclusion of students with Asperger Syndrome was explored. Two hundred and one primary school teachers completed the Teacher Attitudes Survey, returning more positive attitudes toward students’ social inclusion but less positive attitudes toward their own effectiveness in catering to the needs of students with Asperger Syndrome. Five case studies, each consisting of interviews and observations, were undertaken in four primary schools. Participants included three male and two female students with Asperger Syndrome, their teachers, school Principals, and nominated peer groups.

Results reported shared key findings across all five cases from the social inclusion construct. However, only one of the target students demonstrated active engagement in socially inclusive opportunities. Results suggest this was the result of long-term friendships with peers and the way in which the teacher utilised the classroom environment to facilitate this student’s social inclusion.

Supervisor: Associate Professor David Evans