ERG SES E 08, Special Education
This paper focuses on the misconceptions that Irish secondary school teachers have specific to students diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Due to data collection pre-dating the publication of the DSM-V (American Psychiatric Association 2013), the term Asperger’s syndrome (AS) is being used within this paper, though Autism Spectrum Disorder has now replaced it as a diagnostic classification. Despite this terminology change, the core challenges for teachers continue as the characteristics and traits of those previously diagnosed with AS remain unchanged, thus maintaining the relevancy of this present study for teachers in Europe and the wider global community.
The importance of teacher knowledge and understanding of AS has been widely acknowledged in the field and is necessitated in order to provide effective education for students diagnosed with AS (Tobias 2009; Attwood 2012; Parsons et al. 2009; Laushley 2008). The European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education (2014, p.12) acknowledge that “teachers need to be able to take responsibility for all learners” while also highlighting the importance of the development of positive teacher attitudes, knowledge and skills. Teachers who hold misconceptions on AS, defined as incorrect views based on faulty understanding, could potentially have an adverse effect not only on their attitudes towards students diagnosed with AS, but also in the pedagogies they adopt when working with them. Teachers have highlighted both nationally (Drudy and Kinsella 2009; McGillicuddy and O’Donnell 2014) and internationally (Avramidis and Norwich 2002; Hodge et al. 2009) a greater need for training as they feel unprepared to work with students on the spectrum or more broadly students with a special educational need. This is problematic due to the complex needs of those diagnosed with AS, particularly in the context of inclusive practice in Ireland (Department of Education & Skills (DES) 2007; DES 2011). For inclusive practice to be successful it can be argued that while there are many stakeholders involved (e.g. school leaders, parents, teachers), it is integral that teachers possess knowledge and skills to facilitate this process. Indeed a number of studies, both nationally and internationally have identified this significant gap (DES 2001; Nicol 2008; Cheevers 2010).
Examining teacher misconceptions facilitates identification of any particular trends in the types of misconceptions held, but also whether or not they are problematic in an immediate sense and will inform what is needed with regard to resources and training. As such the central questions explored in this paper include:
1) What misconceptions if any do Irish post-primary school teachers hold with regards students diagnosed with AS/ASD?
2) Are there any particular areas where these misconceptions are more common (i.e. general information based, intervention/skill based, diagnostically based?
3) Are these misconceptions potentially problematic in educating students diagnosed with AS?
It is intended to identify and evaluate common misconceptions in the context of their potential impact on student’s diagnosed with AS in the classroom. The identification of these misconceptions will inform current and future initial teacher education and professional development programmes on areas which may require greater focus.
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