Inclusion in mainstream school can exacerbate feelings of being 'different' in pupils with autism spectrum conditions

November 16, 2017

Negative school experiences can have harmful long term effects on pupils with autism spectrum conditions, a new study in the journal Autism reports.

Researchers from the University of Surrey have discovered that experiences of social and emotional exclusion in mainstream schools can adversely affect how pupils with view themselves, increasing their risk of developing low self-esteem, a poor sense of self-worth and mental health problems.

Examining 17 previous studies in the area, researchers discovered that how pupils with autism view themselves is closely linked to their perceptions of how other's treat and interact with them. They found that a tendency of many pupils with the condition to internalise the negative attitudes and reactions of others toward them, combined with unfavourable social comparisons to classmates, leads to a sense of being 'different' and more limited than peers.

Negative self-perception can lead to increased isolation and making pupils with autism more susceptible to .

It was discovered that the physical environment of schools can impact on children's ability to interact with other pupils. Sensory sensitivity, which is a common characteristic of autism and can magnify sounds to an intolerable level, can lead to everyday classroom and playground noises such as shrieks and chatter being a source of anxiety and distraction. This impacts on a 's ability to concentrate in the classroom and to socialise with others, further increasing isolation and a sense of being 'different.'

Pupils with autism who developed supportive friendships and felt accepted by classmates said this helped alleviate their social difficulties and made them feel good about themselves.

These findings suggest it is crucial for schools to create a culture of acceptance for all pupils to ensure the long term wellbeing of pupils with autism in mainstream settings.

Lead author of the paper Dr Emma Williams, from the University of Surrey, said: "Inclusive mainstream education settings may inadvertently accentuate the sense of being 'different' in a negative way to classmates.

"We are not saying that mainstream schools are 'bad' for pupils with autism, as other evidence suggests they have a number of positive effects, including increasing academic performance and social skills.

"Rather, we are suggesting that by cultivating a culture of acceptance of all and making small changes, such as creating non-distracting places to socialise, and listening to their pupils' needs, schools can help these pupils think and feel more positively about themselves.

"With over 100,000 children in the UK diagnosed with autism, it is important that we get this right to ensure that pupils with autism get the education they deserve and leave feeling accepted, loved and valued, rather than with additional mental health issues."

Explore further: Inflexibility may give pupils with autism problems in multitasking

More information: Emma I Williams et al. How pupils on the autism spectrum make sense of themselves in the context of their experiences in a mainstream school setting: A qualitative metasynthesis, Autism (2017). DOI: 10.1177/1362361317723836

Related Stories

Inflexibility may give pupils with autism problems in multitasking

August 15, 2011
Young people with autism may find it difficult to multitask because they stick rigidly to tasks in the order they are given to them, according to research led by an academic at the University of Strathclyde.

Fitbits could lead to negative impact on pupils' well-being, study finds

September 22, 2017
Pupils in secondary schools are reluctant to see fitness and health tracking devices such as Fitbits introduced into Physical Exercise lessons in schools and the device could potentially cause a negative impact on students' ...

Robots being used as classroom buddies for children with autism

November 9, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—Robots are being used as classroom buddies for children with autism in a groundbreaking initiative that aims to improve social interaction and communication.

Research reveals hidden anguish of schoolchildren with autism

December 18, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—Schoolchildren on the autistic spectrum experience worrying levels of mental health difficulties, according to a new study by research psychologists from The University of Manchester.

Recommended for you

Autism therapy: Brain stimulation restores social behavior in mice

December 13, 2017
Scientists are examining the feasibility of treating autistic children with neuromodulation after a new study showed social impairments can be corrected by brain stimulation.

Social phobia linked to autism and schizophrenia

December 11, 2017
New Swinburne research shows that people who find social situations difficult tend to have similar brain responses to those with schizophrenia or autism.

Odors that carry social cues seem to affect volunteers on the autism spectrum differently

November 27, 2017
Autism typically involves the inability to read social cues. We most often associate this with visual difficulty in interpreting facial expression, but new research at the Weizmann Institute of Science suggests that the sense ...

Video game improves balance in youth with autism

November 21, 2017
Playing a video game that rewards participants for holding various "ninja" poses could help children and youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) improve their balance, according to a recent study in the Journal of Autism ...

Potential new autism drug shows promise in mice

November 14, 2017
Scientists have performed a successful test of a possible new drug in a mouse model of an autism disorder. The candidate drug, called NitroSynapsin, largely corrected electrical, behavioral and brain abnormalities in the ...

Relational factors in music therapy can contribute to positive outcome for children with autism

November 6, 2017
It might not surprise that good relationships create good outcomes, as meaningful relational experiences are crucial to all of us in our everyday life. However, the development of a relationship with a child with autism may ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.