Master Kathrin Olsen
Teachers’ practices of supporting the social participation for children with autism in the informal environment of kindergarten. A critical interpretive case-study with a cross-cultural perspective.
This thesis addresses the field of special needs education. The overarching aim of the study is to develop new perspectives and knowledge about conditions that influence staff practices to support the social participation of children with autism within the informal kindergarten environment. Three children with autism and the staff who support them in two Norwegian and one English kindergarten participated in a case study. The methods used in the case study were participant observation, video observation, interviews with parents and teachers, and focus group interviews with kindergarten staff. The concept of ‘practice architectures’, developed by Kemmis et al., is used to explore the research question: How do practice architectures create opportunities or set limits on staff practices of support for the social participation of children with autism in the informal context of kindergarten? The findings from three substudies are used to address the research question. Three different forms of practice are formulated based on these findings: relational, ambivalent and instructional practice. Results suggest that certain conditions contribute to increasing staff’s awareness of their practice. This awareness was apparent when staff evaluated a child’s characteristics positively and adopted a holistic practice, a common pedagogical approach, and shared knowledge development. By contrast, it appears that when the pedagogical approach is inconsistent, inflexible, and focuses on the adult’s role in the child’s learning, staff are less aware of their practices of support. The study concludes that to promote the social participation of children with autism, the practices of support offered by staff must be conscious and informed, with staff investing sufficient time to develop positive relations with the children in the informal environment of kindergarten. The knowledge developed in this thesis can contribute to an understanding of how different practices to support children with autism evolve and how these can create preconditions for how children with autism participate socially and develop.