Context critical to understand schooling of children with autism in India

Photo Researcher Shruti Taneja Johansson

Shruti Taneja Johansson wrote her doctoral thesis about the inclusive education of children with autism in India; © Torsten Arpi

Inclusive education of children with disabilities is a concept well established in the West. Through international declarations and organizations the term has also spread to other countries, such as India. Yet data shows that many children with disabilities still lack access to education. A new doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg shows that context can be the critical factor.

In her thesis, Shruti Taneja Johansson shows that the concept of inclusive education has spread across the world. Using India as an example, she points to the complexity surrounding schooling of children with autism.

Based on several visits to the country, observations and a large number of interviews with parents, teachers, head teachers and other experts in the field, she sheds light on the conditions for autistic school children – knowledge that has thus far been nearly non-existent. She highlights that the child's environment, parents and teachers in particular, are crucial to these children's successful schooling.

"Parental involvement is an important factor for the child to be able to access the education he/she is entitled to. Parents often have to keep the diagnosis a secret in order for their child to get admission in a school," says Taneja Johansson. If a child is admitted to a school, he or she will most likely have about 40 classmates and a teacher who has never heard of autism.

However, the study shows that the teachers, despite very limited knowledge about autism, were often able to identify the child's strengths and difficulties and based on these provide effective support.

The shape schooling of children with autism takes in India, usually does not hinge on the individual child's difficulties. Of greater importance were the perceptions for example on disability, the purpose of school and the role of the teacher, views which are deeply embedded in the country's educational system and in society at large.

"There is a need to move away from the Western perspective that focuses mainly on what is not being done and instead create an understanding of the tensions, dilemmas and complexities surrounding the schooling of children with disabilities in countries like India. Only then will we be able to identify strengths and obstacles and actually help the children," says Taneja Johansson.; Source: University of Gothenburg

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