Current Inclusion Practices for Students with ASD in Under-Resourced Schools
Research in these areas is timely, given the emphasis in ASD research on developing interventions and practices that can be successfully adopted in real-world settings. Factors related to the implementation of services, such as capacity, buy-in, and “barriers to the ‘fit’ between social context and intervention” (Dingfelder & Mandell, 2011) can significantly affect how new interventions are adopted and carried out.
Objectives: The purpose of the study is to use qualitative research methodology to examine the barriers and facilitators to inclusive practices and perceived child outcomes in three socio-economically disadvantaged schools in a large urban school district.
Methods: Using a purposive sample of 3 schools, we facilitated 9 focus groups with teachers (4), paraprofessionals (3), and parents (2) of children with ASD, and 7 key informant interviews with administrators (3), parents (1), and related service providers (3). Under a phenomenology framework, transcripts were analyzed using thematic analysis.
Two themes permeated the school and neighboring community climate. Financial hardships and perceived discrimination created daily stressors that hindered interpersonal relations within and across community and school settings. The extent to which these stressors caused communication breakdowns directly related to perceived child outcomes. Financial burdens affected the hiring of support staff, caseload management, training opportunities for teachers, parents, and paraprofessionals, and a general lack of access to instructional materials and resources. Children were often placed in ASD programs at schools outside of their neighborhood, and a lack of transportation or childcare, or the inability to take off work made parent involvement difficult.
Perceived discrimination was reported by educators and parents. Special education teachers were perceived as being a lower priority than general education teachers, and children with ASD often received little support in inclusive environments. The extent to which adults facilitated a climate of inclusion was positively related to the perceived acceptance of a child with ASD. Parents reported being rejected because of their child with ASD, leading to feelings of isolation. There was a relationship between level of school and community support for parents, and the perceived quality of inclusion programs.
Our findings suggest that there is a tension between federal mandates and school policy, and actual school practices. Financial hardships and perceived discrimination reveal a lack of infrastructure to support the implementation of best practices for inclusion in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. Interpersonal communications related to the barriers had a direct effect on perceived child outcomes, such that healthier communication was associated with greater acceptance.