Exploring The Experiences Of Educators Teaching Learners Diagnosed With Autism
A Case Study Of A Public Special School At Umlazi District (South Africa)
Keywords:Autism, Inclusive education, Special needs
The focus of this study was to explore the educators’ experiences of teaching learners diagnosed with autism. The study was conducted at a special school in Umlazi district and used 8 participants. Participants were purposively selected
based on their number of years of experiences in teaching learners with autism. The theoretical framework for this study is provided by the Education White Paper 6, which aims to build an inclusive education system. This policy on Special needs provides the framework for development of an inclusive, holistic, differentiated and integrated education and training system by embracing the diversity of learners needs. It is a system that enhances learner diversity and acknowledges that learning takes place in different socio economic contexts. This chosen framework based on the concept inclusion, forms a strong framework for this study since teaching and learning are intertwined and to teach learners with autism required effective teamwork. The study used a qualitative research in which a case study approach was adopted. Therefore, in order to explore the educators’ experiences in teaching learners diagnosed with autism, an interpretivist paradigm was used. The data generation processes was obtained through semi-structured interviews, focus group interviews and narratives to get insight and quality data. During interviews, open ended questions were used and other questions arose naturally. The semi-structured interviews were used to enable us to get deep information by probing participants’ responses. This has assisted to elaborate on incomplete answers by being flexible and getting clarification on the experiences of educators teaching learners diagnosed with autism. The researchers set meetings into two sessions, grouping participants in 2 groups of 4 educators according to their numbers of years of experiences of teaching learners diagnosed with autism. These educators were given questions in advance ahead of group discussions to be aware of the topic concerned and to make them feel comfortable during discussions. The narrative approach also called ‘story telling’ was used by the researcher to give voice to the participants to elaborate on their own experiences. Thus asking educators teaching learners diagnosed with autism to tell their own stories about their experiences of working with these learners gave deep insight and better understanding of their personal lives and added valuable data to the research. The overall findings of the research show that teaching learners diagnosed with autism is challenging. These challenges are located at two key levels (educators’/teachers’ level and other stakeholders’ level) of the educational system. It requires understanding of autism and effective supports by various role players or stakeholders at those key levels in order to truly provide effective teaching and learning, and by doing so, improve learners’ performances. Firstly, at the level of the educator/teacher who need to be empowered and change attitude in order to be able to provide the required support to the learners. Secondly, at the level of the other stakeholders/ other professionals such as support staffs, assistant teachers, parents, district, school therapists, school nurse, SMT, SGB, SBST, DBST, Social worker, Psychologist and community members in order to promote effective teaching and learning for our learners. The findings also reveal that teaching learners with autism is a complex task because autism is a complex disorder and each learner is unique and different. Therefore, educators’ experiences of teaching learners diagnosed with autism differ from one another because every learner is unique and every educator experience the daily challenges differently in various contexts.