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Title: Friendship, bullying and the impact of inclusion on attitudes towards children with autism
Author: Cook, Anna H.
Awarding Body: University of Surrey
Current Institution: University of Surrey
Date of Award: 2019
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Children with autism face many social challenges and these have been associated with vulnerability to social exclusion and higher levels of bullying compared to the general population. This can lead to long-term negative outcomes including damaged self-esteem and mental health difficulties. Since the majority of autistic children in the UK attend mainstream schools, the studies conducted for this thesis aimed to explore under-researched areas such as the impact of inclusion, and in particular the attitudes of neurotypical children towards their autistic peers. In Study 1, interviews with autistic girls and their parents (n=22) revealed that girls experienced high levels of bullying, school absenteeism and a tendency to mask their autism and that this was more apparent in mainstream compared to special schools. In Study 2, interviews with teachers (n=12) highlighted many challenges supporting autistic children, but also identified some creative solutions and factors that control the extent to which these were implemented. The next three studies explored attitudes of neurotypical children and whether these could be changed through exposure and contact. Studies 3 and 4 (n=775) investigated attitudes of children in schools with high versus low exposure to autism. Findings revealed that educational exposure led to an increase in prosocial emotional responses to bullying and increased personal exposure facilitated an increase in positive attitudes towards people with autism. Study 5 evaluated the influence of contact with autistic peers through group music-making (n=49) on the attitudes of their neurotypical peers. The intervention led to increased prosocial emotional responses to a vignette depicting social exclusion of a child with autism. In summary, autistic children face many challenges, which are not always addressed by teachers in mainstream schools. Furthermore, the physical and social environment of the school affects attitudes towards autistic children. Combining educational exposure within inclusive school climates, and personal exposure through structured intergroup opportunities, can improve responses to bullying and attitudes towards autism, and may ultimately increase quality of life for autistic children in mainstream schools.
Supervisor: Ogden, Jane ; Winstone, Naomi Sponsor: Qube Learning ; Maundy Todd
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral