An investigation of access to the education system and the admission processes for learners with autism spectrum disorder in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurological condition that presents with persistent deficits in social communication and interaction across a variety of contexts. Worldwide, countries have implemented programmes to facilitate the admission of learners with ASD into special schools. In South Africa, Inclusive Education was implemented to facilitate the inclusion of vulnerable learners into special schools. In the current study, the admission process and access to education for learners with ASD was investigated from an interpretive paradigm in which a qualitative approach was used. Special schools from each special school category were selected to represent a wide range of special schools in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, Department of Education. A survey instrument and semi-structured focus group interviews were conducted with the professional team involved in learner admission in selected special schools. The results of the study indicate that there are a lack of resources and staffing in the special schools and the learner admission committee members in special schools still feel as if they are unable to cater for learners with ASD who require high levels of support. This affects the access to education for those learners with ASD. However, the results of the current study indicate that special schools have started developing their resources but they are still insufficient. There is also a lack of clarity with regard to the availability of consistent financial support from the Department of Education. Although there is space for learners with ASD in some special schools, the results of the study indicate that learner admission for most special schools is largely dependent on the learners meeting the criteria for admission and the available teaching and learning resources. Based on the findings of the study it is recommended that more focussed support from the department is required, especially in terms of resources. It seems that special schools do not have a consistent approach towards the implementation of policy guidelines on the screening, identification, referral and support of learners. A more collaborative approach is required to align policy and practice of learner admission in various autistic units in educational settings.
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