LONDON: Regular schooling can adversely affect how children with autism view themselves, increasing their risk of developing low self-esteem, a poor sense of self-worth and mental health problems, a study has found. Examining 17 previous studies, researchers from the University of Surrey in the UK discovered that how pupils with autism view themselves is closely linked to their perceptions of how other’s treat and interact with them. They found that a tendency of many children with the condition to internalise the negative attitudes and reactions of others toward them, combined with unfavourable social comparisons to classmates, leads to a sense of being ‘different’ and more limited than peers.
“Inclusive mainstream education settings may inadvertently accentuate the sense of being ‘different’ in a negative way to classmates,” said Emma Williams, from the University of Surrey.
“We are not saying that mainstream schools are ‘bad’ for pupils with autism, as other evidence suggests they have a number of positive effects, including increasing academic performance and social skills,” said Williams, lead author of the study published in the journal Autism.
“Rather, we are suggesting that by cultivating a culture of acceptance of all and making small changes, such as creating non-distracting places to socialise, and listening to their pupils’ needs, schools can help these pupils think and feel more positively about themselves,” she added.
Negative self-perception can lead to increased isolation and low self-esteem making pupils with autism more susceptible to mental health problems.
It was discovered that the physical environment of schools can impact on children’s ability to interact with other pupils.
Sensory sensitivity, which is a common characteristic of autism and can magnify sounds to an intolerable level, can lead to everyday classroom and playground noises such as shrieks and chatter being a source of anxiety and distraction.
This impacts on a pupil’s ability to concentrate in the classroom and to socialise with others, further increasing isolation and a sense of being ‘different’. These findings suggest it is crucial for schools to
create a culture of acceptance for all children to ensure the long term well-being of pupils with autism in mainstream settings.