Francophone Students with Autistic Spectrum Conditions: What Do They Have to Say Regarding Their School Inclusion Experiences?

Poster Presentation
Saturday, May 4, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
M. Aubineau1 and T. Blicharska2, (1)Université de Toulouse, Toulouse, France, (2)Psychology, University of Toulouse Jean Jaurès, Toulouse, France
Background: Recently, an increasing number of students diagnosed with high functioning autistic spectrum conditions (HFASC) were able to attend mainstream high schools in both France and Quebec. Despite international studies and governmental recommendations to involve directly youth with HFASC in research, their own perspective has rarely been taken into account in francophone research settings.

Objectives: Grounded in an ecological approach where participants are acknowledged as experts and knowledge co producers, our work aims at understanding how they cope with mainstream education in high schools.

Methods: 26 teenagers with HFASC (13-17) and their parents collaborated in this research, in France (n=17) and in Quebec (n=9). This study examines qualitative data from semi-structured interviews with the teenagers in the light of descriptive analyses of two questionnaires that they completed: the Friendship Qualities Scale (FQS) and the Self-Perception Profile for Adolescents (SPPA).

Results: Questionnaire analysis. Cluster analysis identified three profiles of friendship representation (FQS), mainly distinguished by two dimensions: companionship and help/aid from a friend. Three dimensions (social acceptance, close friends and physical appearance) differentiate self-perception into a 4-group typology (SPPA). Moreover, social skills training support (individual or group sessions) were positively correlated with more confident friendship and self-representations. Thematic analysis. Managing sensory overload in the school setting (N=20), perceived immature behaviors and bullying from peers (N=19) and fatigue resulting from to important workload (N=15) are identified as the main obstacles for their wellbeing in high school. On the contrary, being included in an intensive or international academic program (N=7), being driven by a passion or a clear objective (N>15) and having a friend in the school environment (N=11) appear to be important enablers for a successful inclusion. In France, the benefits vs limits of the teaching assistant’s presence in class (between 12 to 20 hours per week) need to be examined more closely, from the perspective of specific challenges for self-esteem and autonomy. Although strongly dependent of peers’ representations, the autistic identity is generally well lived and accepted, especially outside of high school (N>18). Finally, differences between France and Quebec in access to health services and school systems appear to have little impact on adolescents’ well-being but raise a number of questions regarding provision support access inequalities for certain families, considering the frequent use of private services in France.

Conclusions: When France and Quebec just released their new national plans for autism, transition from adolescence to adult life will constitute one of the major challenges for youth with HFASC in the next few years and has to be anticipated as soon as possible. This preparation would allow the adolescents to gain autonomy and practical skills to better understand their needs and strengths and allow them to speak for themselves in a professional environment. Finally, our work highlights the interest for Francophone research and society to move from a deficit-led approach to a neurodiversity paradigm, promoting empowerment of individuals and considering ASC as a valuable contribution to human diversity.

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See more of: Education