Teachers' experiences of teaching learners with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the mainstream classroom.
In 2001, South African education policy adopted the approach of inclusive education. Inclusive education as defined by the White Paper 6 is a system that acknowledges that all children can learn and that support and enabling education structures are needed in order to meet the needs of all learners (Department of Education, 2001). According to the White Paper 6 (Department of Education, 2001), barriers to learning are inclusive of both learning difficulties and contextual difficulties that arise out of the historical constraints on education in South Africa. The research is interested in how an inclusive education system currently provides for learners with barriers to learning, in the context of South Africa. Specifically, this study will look at the accommodation of learners with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the mainstream classrooms of independent schools in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The research made use of the ecosystemic perspective to provide a framework in which to answer the following research question, “What are the experiences of teachers who are accommodating learners with ASD in the mainstream classroom of independent schools?”. The study uses a qualitative research design as it aims to obtain an individual, in-depth, thick description of the experiences and attitudes of the participants. It focuses on five participants from various independent mainstream schools in the greater eThekwini area, whose perceptions and experiences are explored through individual interviews, classroom observations and field notes. Through thematic analysis the researcher was able to explore the experiences of the participants of this study. The findings of this study are then discussed and presented in light of recent literature on the topic of inclusive education and the accommodation of learners with ASD in the mainstream classroom. The findings of this study show that despite their exclusion from inclusive education policy in South Africa Independent schools had aligned themselves with the policy and were creating supportive environments for learning for learners with ASD. The findings highlight the importance placed on the role of the facilitator in the accommodation of learners with ASD, showing that the facilitator played an essential role, providing assistance with individual teaching methods and providing the necessary structure and guidance to the learner with ASD. Furthermore the findings reveal the challenges faced, including challenging behaviours, feelings of despair and poor academic performance.