04 SES 03 B, Social Stratificaton and Inclusion
It is well researched that children begin learning literacy and becoming literate from ‘womb to tomb’ (Alexander, 2006) as they engage in systems of ‘communication and representation’ (Wyse, Jones, Bradford, & Wolpert, 2013). This places significant importance on the role of family relationships, literacy and resourcefulness in the lives of children in early years and primary education. Children with autism characteristically present with difficulties in social relationship, communication and restricted, repetitive, stereotypical behaviours that place barriers to typical literacy development (Volkmar & Pauls, 2003).
This paper seeks to explore the voices of mothers in the literacy education of their children with autism. A thesis is presented that places mothers, by default, in a role as a matriarchal leader of their child’s education. It argues that ‘horizontal and vertical stressors (crises)’ (Carter & McGoldrick, 2005) within the family system shifts the weight of parental responsibilities on to the maternal figure during the early years of childhood. This discussion arises from emerging research findings of a broader qualitative study of the literacy development of children with autism in an Irish context. The study acknowledges the literature on the debate of the changes to the ‘whole fatherhood experience’ on the diagnosis of a child with a disability (Dardas & Ahmad, 2015; Donaldson, Elder, Self, & Christie, 2011; Ericzon, Frazee, & Stahmer, 2005)and does not suggest the abdication of fraternal duties. It does however present the narratives of mothers on the impact of a diagnosis of autism on the family dynamic and structure.
Like many countries internationally, family participation is highly valued within the Irish education system and is reflected within the constitution. Article 42 of the Irish constitution communicates the law on education, in particular, it ‘acknowledges that the primary and natural educator of the child is the Family’ ("Bunreacht Na hÉireann," 2012 (Lúnasa)). The Irish education system emphasises the importance of building a culture of valuing parental voice in the delivery of education (Ireland, 1998) and especially the participation of parents of children with special and additional needs (Ireland, 2000, 2004). The rhetoric of parent lead leadership in education is well placed, however the realities of the challenges faced by parents of children with autism highlights the need for a system wide response to support mothers of children with autism as leaders in families’ literacy.
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