04 SES 01 A, New Research on Autism, Aspergers and Inclusion
General description of research questions, objectives and theoretical framework
The purpose of this paper is to highlight the experiences of young people associated with high-functioning autism who attend folk high school in Sweden. The following research questions guided the study:
1) What obstacles and opportunities for achieving school progress appear in the participants’ stories?
2) Which educational adjustments are described as beneficial by the participants?
3) What sort of school identities appear in the participants’ stories?
4) How are educational adjustments described at the folk high school by the teachers and other staff?
5) What turning points and horizons of possibility appear in the participants’ stories?
This paper investigates folk high school in Sweden as a means for inclusion in the future studies and working lives of young people associated with high-functioning autism. In Sweden, the folk high school represents a unique form of education for adults. The first folk high school started in 1868, and today there are 154 folk high schools in Sweden with approximately 250 000 attendants. These schools are often characterized by the diversity of students and adjustments in courses. This paper concerns adjusted courses for people associated with high-functioning autism.
The process of exclusion for this group often starts during their early education. Previous research has shown that the special needs for people associated with high-functioning autism to succeed in school are frequently unfulfilled (Simmeborn Fleischer, 2012). People associated with high-functioning autism often need specially-adjusted arrangements in school, in regards to both formal as well as informal learning (Adolfsson & Simmeborn Fleischer, 2013; Anthony & Unger, 1991; Giarelli & Fisher, 2013; Mowbray, 2000; Unger, Anthony, Sciarappa & Rogers, 1991). Consequently, when this group leaves school, many individuals also experience difficulties in their working lives. This concerns both obtaining employment and keeping it (Hendricks, 2010; Krieger, Kinébanian, Prodinger & Heigl, 2012; Roux et.al., 2013; Roy, 2015). Even for those individuals who possess the required training and skills for the job, it is difficult to be seen as ‘employable’ (Andersson, 2008).
In a previous study at a specially-adjusted IT education (Hedegaard & Hugo, 2017; Hugo & Hedegaard, 2017), we found that the learning conditions were well-developed, and that the students felt very satisfied with the program’s educational adjustments. However, the students’ transition to employment was somewhat problematic. While the support functions at the IT education were well-developed, there were significantly fewer at the students’ eventual workplaces and/or internships. In the present paper, we therefore elaborate further on the relationship between education and working life. Through the concepts of supported education (Waghorn et al. 2004) and supported employment (Antonson, 2003), we highlight both success factors in the educational settings as well as areas for improvement when it comes to working life, specifically regarding the cooperation between the educational provider (Folk high schools in this case) and various potential employers.
The data collection took place at three different Folk high schools in Sweden during the autumn of 2017. In the selection of the Folk high schools, we secured as much variation as possible regarding the orientation and length of the specific courses and programs where the participants attended. The students interviewed had attended either a “regular” general program, a general program that was adapted for participants with high-performing autism, or a program that specifically focused on living with high-functioning autism, working life and social skills. A total of 24 interviews have been conducted of which 21 are research interviews with participants and three are focus group interviews with teachers and other staff. The research interviews with the participants lasted between 21 and 80 minutes while the focus group interviews were between 67 and 72 minutes. A content analysis (Krippendorff, 2004) will serve as the analytical tool with which we will search for overarching themes regarding the experience of young people associated with high-functioning autism who attend Folk high school. This will be the first step, in which the analysis will be directed towards the manifest content, or the explicitly expressed content in the interviews. In the second analytical step, we will search for the latent content by contrasting the manifest content with the concepts of supported education and supported employment.
The expected results will lead to a deeper understanding about the experience of attending Folk high school from the perspectives of people associated with high-functioning autism. Thereby we will be able to better understand what characterizes successful education from the students’ own perspectives. Moreover, the results will contribute important knowledge regarding the possibilities and obstacles experienced by these individuals during the transition from education to working life. This paper is an article “in the making”. We have conducted all the interviews and started with the data analysis. Our ambition is to publish this article in a journal oriented towards special education or popular adult education by the end of the year.
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