Book review and discount code, by Craig Goodall.

Understanding the Voices and Educational Experiences of Autistic Young People by Dr Craig Goodall

Based on teaching and research experience, my book, ‘Understanding the Voices and Educational Experiences of Autistic Young People: from research to practice’ provides a theoretical and practical framework for participatory rights based autism research and demonstrates the benefits of – and growing emphasis on – voice and participation research; if done correctly it can be of immense benefit to policy, practice and how we support autistic young people. Alongside a critical and extensive review of research literature and debate on the efficacy of mainstream inclusion for autistic children, my book as a ‘one stop’ text - and in bridging the theory-research-practice gap - provides practical advice on how to support autistic children in research and in school. Dr Bronagh Byrne (Queen’s University, Belfast, Northern Ireland) describes it as a ‘key text for educators, trainee teachers, researchers and policymakers’, with Prof. Liz Pellicano (Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia) suggesting that ‘everyone with an interest in autism should read it’. Significantly, in this book I investigate and present the educational experiences of autistic young people – including girls – and their suggestions to improve educational practice from their own perspectives, as opposed to adult stakeholders.

 

The school environment can be a hostile place for those who process the world differently. As I write in this book, the educational experiences of autistic young people ought to be sought and used to inform school policy and practice, and gain deeper insight into mainstream inclusion for autistic learners. To coin a current buzz word, we must ‘co-produce’ with these young people to ensure we create a more complete picture of what works and what does not. This in turn will allow us to better support and enable autistic young people to thrive in education; as without doing so, our understanding will remain fragmented.

Notwithstanding however, and as the young people in the book purport, we may also need to readjust the direction of travel of educational ideology from that of inclusion in mainstream for all to that of ‘where will the child be best supported, feel they belong and able to be themselves’. For these young people, inclusion is a feeling, a sense of belonging, and not a place, mainstream or otherwise. 

 

For many of the young people I have worked with over past 12 years in a secondary Education Other Than At School Provision (EOTAS), mainstream school was incapable of best supporting them – from the geographical building being inflexible and oppressive, to social and sensory overload, bullying, unpredictability, large class sizes, too much focus on performance data rather than the school having an ethos of understanding, acceptance and support. Some of the young people pushed back at the system, and others simply left the system as the demands of being in school were too great – they became ‘school refusers’; another loaded term which dissolves the system of responsibility, placing the blame within the child. For many autistic young people inclusion (or perhaps more accurately described, mainstreaming), is not a utopian ideal; it is a place of apprehension, distress, isolation, dread and despair. It is a place where they feel unnoticed, unwanted, as a problem to be ‘dealt with’. Often if these young person do not fit the system - as those in my book attest - they have to try to change who they are, or at very least try and pretend, mask or camouflage being autistic, often as recent research suggests, at the risk of their mental health and wellbeing. The young people described their negative experiences and suggested that these were underpinned by a lack of teacher understanding of autism, and of them as individuals. Here is what three of them had to say:

 

“My time at primary school was very stressful. At secondary school, the problems and difficulties got worse. You know what? I am not doing this [secondary school] anymore. I am physically, mentally and emotionally drained … I am done with this.” (Sarah-Jane, female, aged 17)

 

“School was always awful. In fact, I went through a bit of severe depression. I wished I was dead. I have to go to school [sad expression] … I was always dreading it.” (Dan, male, aged 11)

 

“School was toxic this is an underestimation…it was hell. At X [school name removed] I was borderline suicidal.” (Wade, male, aged 13)

 

For me we should be questioning what education is for, and who does it should serve? Should we not have a system that is designed so that all children are able to exercise their right to an education? Currently this is not the case for all autistic young people. Sadly, they are effectively excluded by inclusion, and as I suggest in my book, they become educational collateral damage as a result of rigidity in the pursuit of ‘(mainstream) inclusion for all’. That said, I am not anti-inclusion – I am speaking from my experience trying to help scores of autistic young people put the pieces back together after multiple failed placements. Inclusion in mainstream should be the aim, it is a right after all, but we must consider the question ‘what about those autistic young people for whom mainstream education is not in their best interests?’ Should they not be afforded the choice of whatever education enables them to flourish, and not flounder? For me, the answer is yes.

 

For anyone interested in my book it can be purchased from Routledge using the link: https://www.routledge.com/Understanding-the-Voices-and-Educational-Experiences-of-Autistic-Young/Goodall/p/book/9780367253257.

I am also pleased to provide subscribers of ChatterPack a discount code for 20% off (FLR40). Find me on twitter @DrCraigGoodall and LinkedIn. Feel free to share the above link to the book.

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