Special education researchers consistently argue that students with learning challenges and disabilities such as autism benefit significantly from inclusion. Perhaps most importantly, studies support the notion that early inclusion for students with autism is critical for maximizing the educational and social benefits of this practice (Alanazi, 2012). A critical success factor in early inclusion concerns the attitudes of general education and special education teachers, in which their attitudes towards the inclusion of students with autism will be examined. Studies show that teachers with acceptant and supportive attitudes about inclusion promote positive learning outcomes for students with learning disabilities like autism (Alanazi, 2012). The positive learning outcomes not only impact students with autism but also impact general education students as well. Most optimistically, advancement of inclusion in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia education system can help schools become models for the future of society - a society in which people of all walks of life, and of all learning capabilities, work successfully side by side (Alanazi, 2012). It must be kept in mind, however, that advancing inclusion in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia presents many challenges in terms of finding ways to promote positive attitudes among general education and special education teachers.
The following literature review section of the current thesis paper provides a structured analysis of autism. The organizing scheme involves working from general to specific comparative analyses. With special consideration and emphasis on autism, the literature review, presents a sequence of major topics that parallel Saudi Arabia and the United States. The topics serve to illuminate the multi-dimensional dynamics of the general and special education system in Saudi Arabia in terms of its treatment of children with autism. The aim is to work towards insights and conclusions concerning how special education and general education teachers can be encouraged to hold positive attitudes about the inclusion of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
In order to examine the attitudes that teachers have towards inclusion of autistic children in Saudi Arabia, it is important to first take a closer look at the overall education system in the country. Education in Saudi Arabia is a story that includes a long history, current state of affairs, and a probable future trajectory. As the scientific and historical literature indicates, the Saudi Arabian education system originated in the early 20th century. The establishment of the Directorate of Knowledge in 1925 marked the beginning of the educational system in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (“Establishment of the Ministry of Education,” 2017; Alhudaithi, 2015). The early education system was limited to a few sites mostly located in the Hijaz Region. At this time, education was for boys only. As the education system experiment continued, the Directorate expanded monitoring systems and established more and more schools. By the early 1950s, the number of schools in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had grown to 323 (“Establishment of the Ministry of Education,” 2017). Thus, in just two-and-a-half decades, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia education experiment had grown into a kingdom-wide network of educational institutions.
The 1950s was a period of transition and evolution for the Saudi education system. Under the rule of King Saud Bin AbdulAziz Al-Saud, the governing body called the Ministry of Knowledge was established. The Ministry of Knowledge was granted more administrative power than the previous Directorate. Thereby, the Ministry of Knowledge became the centralized body for planning, developing, and implementing boy's education for primary, preparatory, and secondary schools throughout the entire Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (“Establishment of the Ministry of Education,” 2017). In 1960, the establishment of the General Presidency for Girl's Education marked another important step in the development of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia education. King Faisal Bin AbdulAziz Al-Saud also recognized the need for professional growth and development for teachers of girls' education. To support these ends, King Faisal Bin AbdulAziz Al-Saud ordained the establishment of a teacher's' intermediate institution (“A Statistical Brief on Education in Academic Year 2014-2015,” 2015).
The transition into the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia education system began in 1975 with the creation of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education. Over the past four decades, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has witnessed the emergence of a school system that spans all levels of education and learning. The supported levels of education include pre-primary, primary, intermediate, secondary, and college/universities. In 2015, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education were merged into the Ministry of Education (“Establishment of the Ministry of Education,” 2017). Innovative activities of the Ministry of Education are overseen by the Minister of Education, Dr. Azzam Mohammed Al-Dakhil (“Establishment of the Ministry of Education,” 2017; Alford & Frechet, 2015). Dr. Azzam Mohammed Al-Dakhil is tasked with supporting the mission objectives and goals of the Ministry of Education. The mission objectives and goals can be summarized as helping prepare and equip students with the knowledge, skills, and expertise they need to support a competitive and thriving Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the modern global environment (“Vision and Mission,” 2017). In this way, it can be seen that Saudi Arabia as a country is still developing and progressing in order to fit the country’s educational needs.
As the topic specifically draws on inclusion attitudes from teachers who teach autistic children, it is important to examine Saudi Arabia’s accommodation for children with autism. Special education was first established in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1958. The historical development of special education in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been a gradual process. The Al-Noor Institute of Riyadh was the very first special education facility. Initially, the Al-Noor Institute provided services only for visually impaired students. As an important part of special education history in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Al-Noor Institute became a model for the development of future special education institutes, schools, and programs (Aldabas, 2015; Bin Battal, 2016). One of its innovative features was its full curriculum support for visually impaired students across the entire grade level spectrum. With the exception of minor adaptations to support the needs of the visually impaired, The Al-Noor Institute implemented general school curriculum for elementary, intermediate, and high school. Following the establishment of the Ministry of Special Education in 1962, the scope of special education began a gradual process of expansion. In that year, blindness programs were established for girls (Aldabas, 2015; Bin Battal, 2016). In 1964, deafness programs for girls and boys were established; programs for intellectual disabilities were established in 1971 (Aldabas, 2015; Bin Battal, 2016). By 1987, a total of 27 special education institutes had been established. The institutes provided the service framework for advancing and improving special education for deafness, blindness, and intellectual disabilities. From 1987 to 1990, 54 special education day and residential schools were built (Aldabas, 2015; Bin Battal, 2016). This would indicate that Saudi Arabia continues to make strides in accommodating autistic children, in school systems around the country, but also that teachers may not necessarily be ready to accept or teach autistic children, as they may lack familiarity or skills.
Between 1990 and 2000, the Ministry of Education (Department of Special Education) entered a new era in the education system, which allowed for the inclusion of special education classrooms in public schools. Currently, the direction of special education involves general education classrooms with resources and assistance and/or special day schools. The general education settings support special education students with mild to moderate learning abilities while special day schools support moderate, profound and severe disabilities. This latter category includes: intellectual disabilities, autism, deafness, blindness, multiple disabilities, and physical disabilities (Aldabas, 2015; Bin Battal, 2016; “Special Education,” 2016).
In Saudi Arabia, there are two types of special education inclusion types that disabled students, including those with autism can participate in. These two types are full inclusion and partial inclusion. With full inclusion, students with disabilities participate in the general education classroom a minimum of 50% of their learning hours (Alhossein, 2012; Bin Battal, 2016). These students also receive special education in specialized settings with special education teachers (Almousa, 2010). Generally speaking, the first type of inclusion supports students with relatively mild learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, behavioral challenges, mild to moderate vision impairments, and minor communication disorders (Bin Battal, 2016). As such, special education students in this category follow the general education curriculum. They only leave the general classroom for special education purposes.
The second type of inclusion in Saudi Arabia is partial inclusion. Generally, this category includes students with moderate to severe learning disabilities, which includes autism. Therefore, the category includes “blind, deaf, or hard-of-hearing students as well as students with intellectual disabilities, autism, or multiple disabilities” (Alhossein, 2012, p. 5). With the second type of inclusion, students with moderate to severe disabilities learn in self-contained classrooms. Inclusive participation in general education settings is limited to non-curricular activities such as physical education and arts (Alhossein, 2012; Almousa, 2010; Alquraini, 2013).
In Saudi Arabia, disabilities are categorized as a fundamental theoretical basis of special education. This is where it would be decided if a child fell into the Autism Spectrum of disability and how best to handle the child’s education goals. Accordingly, the Ministry of Education cites the following disability categories: i) Hearing Disability, ii) Visual Disability, iii) Mental Disability, iv) Learning Disability, v) Multiple Disabilities, vi) Autism Disorder Behavioral and Emotional Disorders, vii) Health and Body Disorders, viii) Language and Speech Disorder, and ix) Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Deaf-blind (2014). As for total enrollment, the data below shows the estimate of students with disabilities by category in Saudi Arabia.
According to Ministry of Education, (2014), Saudi Arabia has a total of 665,000 students with disabilities. Categorically, Bin Battal, (2016), illustrates the total as follows:
Table or image redacted in preview, but included in download
In support of inclusion, special education curriculum in Saudi Arabia is the same as general education curriculum. Special modifications are made to the curriculum according to the basis of the category of disability. In addition to special modifications, instructional methods are also adjusted to better support the learning style and needs of the student (Alhossein, 2012; Almousa, 2010; Aldabas, 2015). For children with autism, such modifications include support and other services for students and their families, altered curriculum content, and instruction that involves a system based approach (Iovannone, Dunlap, Huber & Kincaid, 2003). Hearing -impaired students, for instance, are sometimes instructed through the use of visual imagery and tactile prompts. Special education follows a traditional grade level division sequence: elementary school (6 years), middle school (3 years), and high school (3 years). For students and families seeking special education in Saudi Arabia, there are a few guidelines that would help to understand the process.
The following strategies guide special education in Saudi Arabia are: A. Urging regular schools to take an active role in the education of exceptional students through consultation, resource rooms, and self-contained classrooms. B. Developing human resources for special education through teacher preparation programs, conferences, symposiums, and scholarships to other countries that are advanced in Special Education services. C. Relying on the research findings in improving the quality of special education services and guiding the practices (Bin Battal, 2016, Al-Mousa, 2010).
Summarily, the research findings suggest that significant opportunity exists for improvements in special education in Saudi Arabia. Some of the special education categories present difficult challenges for the Ministry of Education (Department of Special Education) and educators. Autism Spectrum Disorder represents one such category. Despite a slow and modest beginning, nevertheless, Saudi Arabia has enjoyed notable success and progress in special education in a relatively short time (Bin Battal, 2016). For continued success, policymakers should take note of the key success factors which include: government support and teacher training and support services. It should also be noted that even though an opportunity exists for improved changes in the special education sector of Saudi Arabia, this situation will also need to help teachers improve their concepts of helping autistic children through education.
Rules and Regulations of Special Education Programs (RRSEP) were instituted in 2001. RRSEP establishes the privileges and policies that form the basis of rights for students with disabilities. The fundamental rights concern guarantees and assurances of having access to special education programs. Thereby, RRSEP entitles every student with special needs (including blindness, deafness, hearing impairments, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities and autism) to four specific rights: i) the transition education and associated services, ii) early intervention programs, and iii) individual educational programs, iv) as well as to appropriate and free special education (Ministry of Education of Saudi Arabia, 2015; Alquraini, 2011; Aldabas, 2015).
Critics of RRSEP identify numerous limitations of the legislation. Number one, RRSEP fails to include information regarding full inclusion of students with disabilities; secondly, RRSEP contains no language concerning Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) [Aldabas, 2015].. The concept of LRE suggests that students with disabilities should have appropriate opportunities to receive education with nondisabled peers. As a third challenge, RRSEP does not treat the critical subject of early intervention services (Aldabas, 2015). As further critique, RRSEP policy implementations have yielded limited success in the classroom. Researchers suggest that the limited effectiveness of RRSEP two obvious reasons: i) the lack of experts in conducting diagnostic assessments of students with learning disabilities and ii) the absence of effective tools for defining optimal educational settings for students with disabilities (Aldabas, 2015).
The history of psychiatric recognition of autism dates back to the early 20th century. Paul Eugen Bleuler, the Swiss Psychiatrist and Eugenicist (1857-1939), first coined the term autism to describe a class of patients characterized by active withdrawal into their own fantasy life as a defense mechanism for coping with unbearable external perceptions or experiences (Kita & Hosokawa, 2010; Feinstein, 2010; Fuentes et al., 2014). Bleuler's characterization of autism is not, however, accepted today as he mistakenly conflated autism with schizophrenia. Autism as defined in a modern sense occurred for the first time in 1944 by Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger who described children and adolescents with deficits in communication and social skills accompanied by unusually restrictive and repetitive patterns of behaviors (Kita & Hosokawa, 2010; Feinstein, 2010; Fuentes et al., 2014). Throughout the years, various researchers and medical personnel studied autism and attempted to explain the phenomena with hypotheses, however none of them seemed to hold true.
In 1980, autism first appeared in American Psychiatric Association (APA)’s DSM-I. Since that time, the definition of autism has continued to evolve. Currently, autism is viewed as a spectrum disorder (Gargiulo. & Bouck, 2017) APA’s DSM-5 (2013) has eliminated the distinction in DSM-IV between autism, Rett’s disorder, Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (Feinstein, 2010). Thereby, DSM-5 articulates a distinctive Autism Spectrum Disorder characterized as follows: persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts; restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities either current or elicited through the clinical history; clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning; presence from early childhood (although it may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed the child’s limited capacities), and; not explained better by intellectual disability or global developmental delay. (Kita & Hosokawa, 2010).
Comprehensive review of the literature reveals that no consensus exists regarding the etiology of autism although there is a wide range of theories and explanations are posited to explain the causes and/or conditions that lead to Autism Spectrum Disorder. Research findings also suggest that, in some cases, Autism Spectrum Disorder may be associated with insults during and/or after pregnancy where oxygen deprivation to the brain can result in brain impairments that cause autism (Manning-Courtney, et al, 2013; Xavier, et al., 2015). Other studies have found evidence that items such as environmental toxins, to allergic reactions and autoimmune disorders are some aspects that can either cause autism or exacerbate the condition, however in current times, these still remain speculation (Gargiulo, 2006; Grabrucker, 2012).
Autism in Saudi Arabia poses significant social and political challenges, which can be reflected on to its educational programs and changes throughout the years. Perhaps most problematically, many parents and families of children with autism experience heavy stresses and burdens (Karst & Van Hecke, 2012; Salhia, et al., 2014). Part of the problem for parents and families concerns the mixed messages they hear about autism (Al-Zaalah, et al, 2015; Salhia, et al., 2014). Many parents and families report that their primary source of information is the mass media. Mass media outlets in Saudi Arabia and the international space are notorious for disseminating false information. False information is often released through mass media sources concerning the causes, treatments, and outcomes of autism. In a recent study conducted by Al-Zaalah, et al, (2015), approximately 50 percent of parents sampled reported that information they receive from the mass media increased their fears about autism; about 36 percent of parents reported that they believed diagnosis of autism required Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Electroencephalography (EEG), and/or heavy metal testing; 21 percent believed a cure for autism exists.
A key finding concerns the relationship between the home environment for children with autism and the efficacy of education. Studies show, more exactly, that difficult and/or unstable home environments can significantly undermine or offset the benefits of learning in school (Al-Zaalah, et al, 2015; Manning-Courtney, 2013). Most troublingly, the research shows that autism often has profound effects in the home environment. In a seminal study cited by most researchers, Karst and Van Hecke, 2012) found that raising a child with autism is often overwhelming for parents. Parents of children with autism are frequently stressed and mentally overloaded by the demands placed upon them (Al-Zaalah, et al, 2015; Manning-Courtney, 2013). As a result, parents frequently experience high levels of stress, mental fatigue, and physical illness. Families with autistic children also experience significant financial challenges due to the high costs of treatments and interventions; families also experience high rates of divorce which serves to further destabilize the home environment and the chances of the autistic child succeeding in school (Al-Zaalah, et al, 2015).
Interestingly, the research shows that the vast majority of autism cases in Saudi Arabia are boys. In fact, boys represent approximately 82 percent of all autism cases while girls make up just 18 percent (Al-Zaalah, et al, 2015; Salhia, et al., 2014). Saudi Arabia is not unique in this respect. Studies show that autism cases are four times more common worldwide in boys compared to girls (Salhia, et al., 2014). For boys and girls with autism, early intervention is critical for promoting the best possible long-term outcomes (Kamal, El-fetouh. & Omar, 2014). Unfortunately, studies reveal that access to early intervention programs in Saudi Arabia is still very limited (Kamal, El-fetouh. & Omar, 2014). In a recent investigation, researchers found that even in major cities like Riyadh, Jeddah and Al-Dammam, early intervention programs are provided primarily in the private sector (Al-Zaalah, et al, 2015). This fact places even more financial burdens on families with autistic children. Summarily, the social and political picture of autism in Saudi Arabia reveals a dramatic need for support and education for parents, families, and teachers. Overall, this is troubling, as it seems that Saudi Arabia as a country may not culturally be ready to provide the support autistic families and their children require. These attitudes may also translate into the educational arena where teachers may also adopt attitudes that are not conducive for positive growth.
A significant challenge for educators stems from the absence of a commonly accepted definition of inclusion, and at times, their inability to cope with the changes in curriculum that is required for autistic students. In the absence of an official definition, policy under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142) in the United States “considers the concept to mean placing children with SEN in regular education settings” (Alhudaithi, 2015, p. 21). Similarly, inclusion in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia means that children with special education needs (SEN) learn alongside general education students in the same classroom. In Saudi Arabia, there are two types of inclusion, one of which is considered to be a regular program that includes children with all types of abilities and disabilities, and another type of inclusion where disabled children, including autistic children, are taught in separate special education establishments (Alanazi, 2012).
As indicated in previous analysis, the Ministry of Education recognizes that students with SEN benefit from inclusion for many reasons. Inclusion allows students with SEN to enjoy vital social interaction and education with general education students. Students with SEN, thereby, have the opportunity to become better prepared for adult life and inclusion in society (Al-Ahmadi, 2009; Leahey, 2007Inclusion, therefore, demands the provision of support services for the child with SEN to ensure that he/she benefits from being in the same class with general education students. Critically, inclusion does not imply or require that a child with SEN keep up with general education students. The primary benefits of inclusion stem the sense of belonging that children with SEN experience by being part of the general population of students.
Conclusively, research findings indicate that a consensus on the proper meaning of inclusion does not exist. While the debate over the proper meaning of inclusion continues, the Ministry of Education and educators in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have the opportunity to explore different inclusion formulas and options.
Currently, Saudi Arabia has not clearly defined the terms ‘integration’ or ‘mainstream’, rather both terms are applied as analogous to inclusion (Alhudaithi, 2015, p. 5). The concept of inclusion has gained significant attention and currency in Saudi Arabia. Over the past two decades, the focus on inclusion has resulted in growing numbers of children with SEN in general education schools. To illustrate the progress and trajectory on inclusion, policy implementation began in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the early 1990s. By 2006-2007, in excess of 93% of male students with SEN and 73% of female students with SEN were being educated in general classrooms (Al-Mousa, 2010).
Progress has been a function of growing commitment and investment in special education programs in regular schools. In the 1994-1995 school year, only a dozen or so special education programs existed in regular school settings. By 2007, the number of special education programs in regular school settings had grown to 3,171 (Alhudaithi, 2015). In application today, the Saudi educational system recognizes (i.e., varying by general school setting) all types of inclusion programs. The types of inclusion programs are: i) full inclusion and ii) partial inclusion. Full inclusion means that children with SEN are fully integrated into the regular classroom; partial inclusion means that children with SEN are partially integrated into the regular classroom but spend time in separate classes within the school environment (Alhudaithi, 2015, p. 29).
Many studies indicate that teachers play a major role in determining the efficacy of inclusion. Results of seminal and recent studies show, in fact, that teacher perceptions and attitudes towards inclusion make a major difference in the success of such programs (Kozub & Lienert, 2003; Cook, 2004; Haimour & Obaidat, 2013). Positive perspectives and attitudes towards inclusion on the part of teachers moderate the success of inclusion programs for many reasons. Foremost, positive perspectives serve as a motivator for teachers to work harder in designing and implementing inclusion programs. Students also perceive the attitude and enthusiasm of positive teachers. As such, positive attitudes translate to the classroom in the form of better general learning environments (Abaoud & Almalki, 2015).
In investigating teacher attitudes towards inclusion, the findings of various studies differ significantly. One recent study, for instance, found that negative attitudes towards inclusion are common in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The researchers further discovered three key variables in predicting teacher attitudes towards inclusion. The variables include: current teaching position (grade level, demands, responsibilities), previous experience working with children with SEN, and gender (Haimour & Obaidat, 2013). On the latter variable, the research consistently reveals that male teachers tend to be less acceptant and positive about inclusion programs than their female counterparts.
In a vital study, Al-Faiz (2006) examined attitudes of 240 teachers working in elementary schools in Saudi Arabia toward inclusive education for students with autism. The study examined teacher attitudes about inclusion in terms of 11 independent variables: i) gender, ii) citizenship, iii) age, iv) marital status, v) level of education, vi) education area, vii) teaching field, viii) teaching experience, ix) training program, x) family/relative with autism, and xi) exposure to students with disabilities (Alhossein, 2012; Alquraini, 2011). Unlike Al-Ahmadi (2009), the study found mostly positive attitudes among teachers about inclusive education. The best predictors of a positive teacher attitude about inclusion were teaching experience and family/relative with a disability. In a similar study, researchers found that most teachers hold positive attitudes about inclusion. The most powerful predictor of positive attitude in this study was gender. Female teachers and administrators, generally, exhibited more positive attitudes about inclusion than male teachers and administrators (Alhossein, 2012; Alquraini, 2011). This illustrates that different attitudes that teachers and administrators may have on children with autism.
General education teachers in the United States are not easily described in monolithic terms. This is due to the fact that teacher credentialing requirements vary from state to state. Education policies also vary from state to state. Additionally, cultural differences exist from region to region in the United States. Consequently, variables that serve to describe general education teachers (e.g., attitudes towards diversity, special education, and inclusion) may differ significantly on the basis of state of origin and/or employment location (Macomber, 2014; Blanton, Pugach & Florian, 2011). A major factor influencing the development of general education teachers in the United States concerns the changing demographic profile of the nation. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 emphasizes principles to ensure that teachers provide support for all children's learning. General education teachers are required to provide challenging, motivating, and interesting academic curriculum to all students. To support this critical objective, general education teachers are encouraged to work creatively in collaborative teams while also consulting with specialists (Macomber, 2014; Blanton, Pugach & Florian, 2011). Most critically, general education teachers in the United States are encouraged to work closely with special education teachers in the development of Individual Education Plans (IEPs) [Blanton, Pugach & Florian, 2011].
The concept of inclusion represents a major trend and movement in special education in the United States. Inclusion has taken on a political life of its own in the sense that it is heralded as the fundamental answer to promoting the best possible educational pathways for students with learning disabilities, which can have some impact on the teachers’ perspective of inclusion in education for children who have autism (Dudley-Marling & Burns, 2014). The implementation of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in the United States has provided the impetus for the widespread presence of inclusive programs across the country (Alquraini, 2013). According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (2016) and U.S. Department of Education (2015), the vast majority of students with learning disabilities (98%) are included in the general education classroom; approximately 59% of students with learning disabilities spend 80% of their learning hours in the regular classroom accompanied by their age appropriate peers. Most notably, students with learning disabilities across the entire severity spectrum are represented in these statistics - mild, moderate, and significant learning disabled (Salem, 2013). For children with autism, it was found that when an educator had a more positive attitude in including autistic students with the other students, the autistic students seemed to have less behavioral issues and managed to increase their social skills by interacting with other students as well (Robertson, Chamberlain & Kasari, 2003).
Inclusion of Autism Spectrum Disorder students in the United States occurs on a case-by-case basis and may even be affected by the educator’s perception of autistic children (Sansosti, 2008). Individualized Education Plans are developed for students on the basis of formal assessments and collaborative effort between teachers, administrators, parents, and other interested stakeholders such as family members. In the United States, the principle of Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is, for the most part, conceptually equivalent to inclusion. LRE suggests that children with learning disabilities, which includes autism, should experience education with their age relevant peers as much as possible (Scanlon & Baker, 2012; Ferri, 2012; Baglieri et al., 2011; Reagan, 2012). Given the fact that autism is a spectrum disorder, the LRE is a subjective decision. Therefore, researchers discover in the United States that for some Autism Spectrum Disorder students, LRE is a fully inclusive environment; for other autism students, traditional classroom environments may not be the LRE (Scanlon & Baker, 2012; Ferri, 2012; Baglieri et al., 2011; Reagan, 2012).
The research shows that the effectiveness of inclusion for students with autism, is highly dependent on the quality of the curriculum and the learning environment. Inclusive environments that are stimulating and fun with conversation-based learning are most favorable for Autism Spectrum Disorder students, which has an overall positive effect on autistic students (Beadle-Brown, Roberts & Youell, 2011; Reagan, 2012). More importantly, however, teacher attitudes and proficiencies play a major role in determining the effectiveness of inclusion for Autism Spectrum Disorder students, which greatly affects the outcome of educational goals and information retention in autistic children.
As a spectrum disorder, autism represents one of the more complex learning disabilities. Yet, hope for Autism Spectrum Disorder students emerges as studies reveal that teachers with training in Autism Spectrum Disorder are more effective at supporting inclusive classrooms. Burns, Leblanc & Richardson (2009). It was also found, in fact, that training a sample of general education teachers about Autism Spectrum Disorder helped to significantly increase teacher skill and knowledge about how to support students with the condition (Reagan, 2012; Probst & Leppert, 2008).
In a recent investigation, researchers reported that although Saudi Arabia has established the inclusive classroom, general education teachers are commonly ill-prepared to manage the many challenges of meeting the needs of students with learning disabilities (Alnahdi, 2014, Alrubaian, 2014). The study examined the knowledge, evidence based practices, and perceived skills of male general education teachers. It would demonstrate that an ill-prepared teacher may pose an attitude that is not necessarily positive for the autistic student, due to lack of resources or frustration and this would alter the autistic child’s educational experience. An ANOVA analysis revealed statistically significant correlations between degree field, years of experience, and expertise in special education (Hernandez, Hueck. & Charley, 2016). Teachers with degrees in education coupled with exposure to special education theory (mostly through selected route of certification) held more positive dispositions towards inclusion (Alnahdi, 2014, Alrubaian, 2014). Such individuals were significantly more likely to have positive experiences with inclusion in the general education classroom as their perspectives on inclusion with autistic students was much different.
Similarly, teachers with greater levels of actual work experience in inclusion were also more effective in practice. The researchers also discovered a positive correlation between teacher attitudes and the presence of a resource room on campus. Resource rooms provide critical support for general education teachers in developing teaching methods and strategies in the classroom for managing inclusion (Al-Zoubi & Bani Abdel Rahman, 2016). Generally, studies show that general education teachers appreciate the support they receive through resource rooms.
Researchers have also found that classroom size affects teacher attitudes. Almost invariably, teacher attitudes towards inclusion improve when student counts in classrooms are relatively smaller, which would benefit autistic students the most (Alnahdi, 2014, Alrubaian, 2014). Striking differences were found in examining administrator and teacher perspectives on effective teaching methods for students with learning disabilities. The researchers discovered that most school principals believed that teaching students with learning disabilities was no different than teaching mainstream students. Teachers, on the other hand, believed that teaching students with learning disabilities presents special challenges (Alnahdi, 2014, Alrubaian, 2014). Overall, teachers expressed the need for developing special strategies individualize and special curriculum for students with learning disabilities, and teachers seemed to have more of a positive attitude when class sizes were smaller, as they are more likely to focus on the needs of their autistic students.
Under the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia two-fold special education inclusive structure, the typical special education student included in the general education classroom refers to students with mild to moderate disabilities. Specially, this category of student supports students with relatively mild learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, behavioral challenges, mild to moderate vision impairments, and minor communication disorders (Alhossein, 2012; Bin Battal, 2016; Almousa, 2010; Alhossein, 2012; Gaad, 2014). Studies show that general education teachers commonly struggle to maintain positive attitudes about inclusion of the typical special education student, which ultimately affects autistic children and their education. Yet, the attitudes and perceptions of general education teachers can be significantly improved through the provision of support services. Teamwork with colleagues and utilization of resource rooms can help equip the general education teacher with the tools he or she needs to meet the challenges and demands of inclusion of the typical special education student (Almousa, 2010; Alhossein, 2012; Gaad, 2014). In this way, the perspective of teachers is that they would require certain training and support, which increases the likelihood of teachers becoming more positive about teaching autistic children as they feel more prepared to do so.
Under the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia twofold special education inclusive structure, students with autism can fall under either category. In mild to moderate cases of autism, the student may be included in the general education classroom. With more severe cases of autism, the student is likely to be placed in a special education container. Inclusive interaction with general education students will, therefore, be limited to non-curricular activities students (Haimour & Obaidat, 2013). Overall, the effectiveness of general education teachers in dealing with mild to moderate cases of autism yet remains a function of specific variables. Studies indicate that teachers with special education training hold more optimistic and positive attitudes about inclusion of autistic students (Haimour & Obaidat, 2013). Additionally, studies reveal that teachers with significant experience in working with children with autism also hold better attitudes and perspectives (Haimour & Obaidat, 2013). Summarily, in the general education setting, teachers with training and more experience provide superior learning environments for children with mild to moderate cases of autism, which in turn benefits the autistic student.
The preponderance of research points to the conclusion that the effectiveness of inclusion in the general education setting centers around the teacher. As no surprise, teachers with greater qualifications typically provide better learning experiences for all special education students, including students with autism. Education and training in the subject area of special education helps equip teachers to manage the many challenges they face with inclusion (Gaad, 2014). Optimistically, study findings suggest that the more experience teachers gain with inclusion the better and more effective they become (Gaad, 2014). This would apply to teachers who use inclusion for autistic students in their classrooms as well. Thus, administrators can anticipate positive results by combining teacher training and on-hands experience for teachers in inclusive environments.
Generally, special education teachers in the United States receive the same education and training as general education teachers. Although education and credentialing requirements vary from state to state, in most cases special education teachers receive minimal additional training in the subject. It is common, for example, that special education teachers are only required to take a single course on special education in addition to their general education training (Blanton, Pugach & Florian, 2011; Government Accountability Office, 2009). Studies show that 73% of elementary programs and 67% of secondary programs hold teachers to this requirement; only 20% of pre-service programs require teachers to take courses to support the growing number of English language learners (Blanton, Pugach & Florian, 2011; Government Accountability Office, 2009).
A significant amount of policy making regarding education requirements for special education teachers is left to the individual states. In the absence of a comprehensive national policy on special education teacher preparation, federal policies and programs exist that provide mere guidance for the states. In 2008, for example, Congress reauthorized the Higher Education Act (Government Accountability Office, 2009). Two added provisions in the legislation advocate the preparation of general education teachers towards proficiency in teaching students with learning disabilities. The first provision calls for teacher evaluations in the form of annual report cards on teaching quality and effectiveness; the second provision requires states to report to the federal government regarding statewide efficacy in preparing teachers to teach students with learning disabilities (Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008; Blanton, Pugach & Florian, 2011). This is important because being educated on the matter would help the teachers understand how to handle a different array of students with disabilities, including those with autism. The inclusion policy would better be able to be incorporated, and the teachers would feel more comfortable and be more effective for all students as educators.
Research findings indicate that the vast majority of special education teachers hold positive attitudes about inclusion of the typical special education student (Rodríguez, Saldaña & Moreno, 2012). As noted by researchers, the special educator's attitude towards inclusion of typical special education students appears to be positive for a number of reasons (Showalter-Barnes, 2008; Rodríguez, Saldaña & Moreno, 2012). Foremost, one must understand that the roles of the special education teacher and general education teacher are fundamentally different. The special education teacher is responsible for developing the Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for special education students (Showalter-Barnes, 2008; FamiliaGarcia, 2001; Goodin, 2011; Peacock, 2016). This requires communication and collaboration with colleagues, parents, and other concerned parties. Additionally, special education teachers are often governed by respect for Tolerance Theory and, thereby, try to address all student needs (Cook, Gerber, & Semmel, 1997; Cook & Semmel, 1999; Cook & Semmel, 2000; Goodin, 2011). The typical special education student is viewed, more specifically, as a person with diverse social, psychological, and learning needs (Showalter-Barnes, 2008). By no means do the majority of special education teachers in the United States support the notion of full inclusion. Decisions about inclusion must be based on the principle of Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). Thus, researchers find that special education teachers in the United States tend to remain positive and flexible about inclusion because the term is flexible in referring to either full or partial participation in the regular classroom (Showalter-Barnes, 2008; Hocutt, 1996; Ford, 2013; Peacock, 2016).
Although the collective attitude of special education teachers about inclusion of the typical special student is primarily positive, autism presents a more challenging and complex conversation (Ridarick, 2010). As already emphasized, as a spectrum disorder, autism’s severity varies dramatically. This makes each and every case unique in terms of presenting behaviors of the disorder. It also means that students with autism face different challenges in learning and interacting with their age appropriate peers. Autism, in these latter respects, can vary from mild to severe in terms of social and academic difficulties (Cook, Semmel & Gerber, 1999; Showalter-Barnes, 2008). For these reasons, some researchers suggest that inclusion strategies and policies should be decided at the district level and by individual teachers. More specifically, researchers note that even special education teachers voice concerns over the challenges of inclusion for the autistic child “because of the children’s lack of social skills, behavioral outbursts, [and] modifications made to the curriculum” (Cassady, 2011, p. 1). The overarching concern stems from evidence-based research which highlights the importance of teacher attitudes in influencing the learning climate. Summarily, most special education teachers recognize that autistic children can pose a significant disturbance in general education classrooms. Inclusion of autistic children must, therefore, be approached judiciously and cautiously for the sake of all teachers and stakeholders.
Research shows repeatedly that teachers who are effective in inclusive classrooms are willing to teach students with disabilities and help all students become responsible for their own learning (Harrower & Dunlap, 2001; Showalter-Barnes, 2008; Titone (2005; Chatman, 2017). This perspective demonstrates that teacher’s positive perspective on classroom inclusion and how to educate autistic children in this environment. The positive attitude greatly influences the students in this general education setting. Thus, the research clearly points to the importance of teacher attitudes and dispositions about inclusion. In another study, researchers concluded that “teachers with positive attitudes toward working with students in their classrooms take responsibility to help all students, and in turn help all students learn to take ownership of their learning” (Berry, 2010; Peacock, 2016). Further, the effectiveness of special education teachers in supporting inclusion has been traced to proactive engagement with students. Researchers found, in fact, that, compared to general education teachers, special education teachers are more likely “to monitor student behavior, praise, show positive regard, give the answer, and reject students’ verbalizations” (Hocutt, 1996, p. 86). Effective general education and special education teachers share some common descriptive traits. Researchers found that they “had materials ready, began lessons promptly, oriented learners to the lesson, made assignments more often, exhibited more teacher-directed than student-directed learning, praised student responses more, and had to manage student inattention/disruption less often” (Hocutt, 1996, p. 86).
The origins of special education in Saudi Arabia date back, of course, more than 5 decades. Significant political progress has been made in terms of establishing the legislative framework to support special education and teacher development. Yet overall, researchers suggest that the field of special education remains in its nascent phases in Saudi Arabia (Al-Zoubi & Bani Abdel Rahman, 2016). This fact should be viewed opportunistically rather than as a statement of judgment. Currently, special education teachers in Saudi Arabia appear to lag slightly behind their professional counterparts in the United States, which could explain the attitudes and differing perspectives or effectiveness of Saudi teacher’s and educators. The Department of Special Education at King Saud University is helping pave the way for progress. This specialized department has many PhD. professionals who graduated from schools in the United States and England (Al-Zoubi & Bani Abdel Rahman, 2016). Additionally, more than 11 Special Education Departments in Saudi Universities are helping prepare future teachers for a career in special education (Al-Zoubi & Bani Abdel Rahman, 2016). Inclusion is rapidly becoming a primary area of research and emphasis at these universities.
As indicated in previous literature review, legislation has helped establish the legal and administrative framework for advancing special education in Saudi Arabia. In particular, RRSEP was established to ensure that every learning disabled student under any category of disability receives special education on the basis of the student's unique needs (Aldabas, 2015). When it comes to inclusion of the typical special education student, researchers recognize the challenges teachers face. The wide range of presenting disabilities of these students can make it quite challenging for them to learn and acquire the knowledge and skills they need for future success in life (Alquraini & Gut, 2012). The most effective special education programs and teachers approach inclusion with the understanding that "support is the virtue of using physical tools to enhance learning or the modeling of behavior through deployment of social and learning models" (Aldabas, 2015, p. 1163).
Inclusion of students with autism represents a challenging issue in Saudi Arabia. The Department of Special Education has established special education schools within the public schools. But these institutions are fundamentally limited to students with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities (Alquraini, 2011). As a spectrum disorder, autism can present severe learning challenges and cognitive deficits for students, however it is also found that if teacher’s are educated in the correct manner, that including autistic students can be a beneficial aspect. This makes inclusion difficult to discuss in a general manner. It is found that in Saudi Arabia, the vast majority of students with multiple and severe disabilities (greater than 90%) receive their special education in separate institutes (Alquraini, 2011). Thus, inclusion of students with severe autism is generally not widely supported in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The effectiveness of inclusion remains a matter of debate among researchers and educators. Researchers emphasize that “it is difficult to place students with disabilities in general classrooms without making required modifications in classrooms, textbooks and instructions.” (Aldabas, 2015). Nonetheless, the research clearly reveals the underlying critical issues and success factors. The effectiveness of inclusion is dependent on the attitude and practices of the special education teacher. Effective special education teachers approach inclusion professionally and scientifically by ensuring that “Classroom, instructional, assignment, grading and accessibility modifications [are] considered before inclusion of students with disabilities takes place in general classrooms” (Aldabas, 2015, p. 1163; Alquraini & Gut, 2012). Summarily, the effectiveness of inclusion is mainly dependent on teacher attitudes and experience with children with SEN.
Aldabas (2015) reports that at the current time, no general teacher preparation programs in Saudi Arabia offer any courses that address special education. Consequently, many teachers entering the public school system in Saudi Arabia are unprepared to deal with the subject of inclusion (Murry & Alqahtani, 2015). Researchers argue that pre-service teachers must be better equipped to support the diverse needs of special education students because the teacher’s attitude in this learning development will ultimately determine the autistic student’s success. Aldabas (2015) specifically states that the “diversity needs among learners [must be the] foundation of special education and inclusive education should be included in teacher preparation programs (p. 1165). Conclusively, researchers suggest that pre-service teachers need greater exposure and opportunity to receive special education and inclusion training.
Preparation for inclusion must emphasize the efficacy of evidenced-based practices and research in the field of special education. Again, Aldabas (2015) puts it this way, saying “Preservice special education teachers should be knowledgeable regarding the effective and functional interventions in order for there to be qualified special education teachers in schools” (p. 1164). Theoretical preparation is not, however, enough for preparing pre-service teachers to effectively manage the inclusion of Autism Spectrum Disorder students (Homidi, 2013). Hands on experience in the classroom is essential for developing methodological and practical expertise (Al-Zoubi, 2011). Researchers conclude, therefore, that both theory and practice must be part of teacher preparation for inclusion to be most effective.
The attitudes of pre-service teachers towards inclusion are largely determined by prior experiences and exposures and professional and/or personal beliefs about diversity (Gao & Mager, 2011). Pre-service teachers who have family members or relatives with a learning disorder like Autism Spectrum Disorder are more likely to hold positive attitudes about inclusion of this subgroup (Alquraini, & Gut, 2012). The preponderance of research findings suggest that theoretical and hands-on training of pre-service teachers can help significantly advance the cause of inclusive education for autistic children (Alur & Natarajan, 2000; Avradmidis & Norwich, 2002; Elliott, 2008; Friend & Bursuck, 2015; Parasuram, 2006; Van Reusen, Shoho, & Barker, 2001).
Factors/characteristics that influence attitudes toward inclusion. Educators and policymakers can anticipate that the characteristics of pre-service teachers that influence attitudes towards inclusion are similar to the characteristics that influence the attitudes of general education and special education teachers. In contrast to their male counterparts, the research shows, more exactly, that female teachers tend to hold more positive attitudes about inclusion (Cipkin and Rizza 2010; Charley, 2015). Area of degree also holds influence in the formation of attitudes about inclusion. Additionally, socially oriented personalities tend to value inclusion more than individuals with academic introspective dispositions (Ripski, LoCasale-Crouch, & Decker, 2011; Henson, 2003).
The research consistently indicates that the attitudes of general education and special education teachers differ significantly regarding professional issues of inclusion (Alhudaithi, 2015; Scruggs and Mastropiere, 1996). Of interest, the current literature review examines the following professional issues concerning inclusion of children with autism in general education classrooms: i) inclusion of typical student in special education, ii) inclusion of students with autism, iii) lack of knowledge, and iv) lack of confidence.
As previously indicated, Saudi Arabia has a long history of special education tradition dating back to the late 1950s. Special education began with accommodation for the needs of blind students and gradually expanded to address deafness, physical disabilities, and cognitive disabilities of diverse types. Autism Spectrum Disorder, however, is a unique condition that has only recently begun to be understood by scientists and researchers (Alanazi, 2012). And even then, more is unknown about Autism Spectrum Disorder than is known. Autism Spectrum Disorder presents diverse and difficult challenges to educators. General education teachers are often more acceptant of typical special education students for the simple reason that they are easier to handle (Alrubaian, 2014; Alhudaithi, 2015). For both general education teachers and special education teachers, resources and methods have long been in place to help visually and hearing impaired students. Thus, the attitudes of both general and special education teachers about inclusion of typical special education students can be characterized as relatively positive (Ridarick, 2010).
Due to the potentially dramatic challenges that Autism Spectrum Disorder presents to teachers in terms of curriculum adjustments, instructional modality changes, and logistical responsibilities, researchers are not surprised that teacher attitudes about inclusion of students with autism vary (Walker, 2012; Al-Ahmadi, 2009). General education teachers are often reluctant and less than enthusiastic about inclusion of students with autism. Depending on the individual case, the autistic child can present many professional challenges to the general education teacher (Rodríguez, Saldaña & Moreno, 2012). Social and learning disruption is a common complaint of general education teachers (Rodríguez, Saldaña & Moreno, 2012). Special education teachers, by contrast, view the many professional challenges of inclusion of autistic students as part of their job (Rodríguez, Saldaña & Moreno, 2012). They often find the task of managing autistic children intrinsically rewarding. Therefore, special education teachers generally hold more positive attitudes on the issue (Ridarick, 2010).
Autism Spectrum Disorder is yet an evolving subject for both medical researchers and education policy makers. The etiological theories of Autism Spectrum Disorder reveal just how much remains unknown about autism. Without full understanding of the disorder, the development of effective educational interventions is difficult, and this can be translated into the educator’s attitude as they attempt their best at teaching and including autistic children in classroom education (MacCarthy, 2010). Research suggests that many autistic children require specially designed learning programs in terms of curriculum and teaching methodologies. For lack of knowledge about Autism Spectrum Disorder, many general education teachers hold reservations about how effective their own instructional interventions can be (Ridarick, 2010; Gao & Mager, 2011; MacCarthy, 2010). Similar conclusions can be drawn regarding the attitudes of special education teachers who must handle some of the more severe cases of Autism Spectrum Disorder (Charley, 2015; Orr, 2009; Idol, 2006). In the absence of robust scientific knowledge, it is certainly fair to question the wisdom and benefits of inclusion of children with severe autism.
Knowledge empowers teachers to gain confidence in the work they perform as educators. Even the most optimistic assessments of Autism Spectrum Disorder must be tempered with the understanding that not enough is actually known about this disorder to fully inform special education teachers in Saudi Arabia (Mashat, Wald & Parsons, 2016, p. 224). Given its lifelong trajectory and likelihood that some challenges augment with age, general education and special education teachers alike confront the daunting reality that they might be accomplishing very little. Such realizations fuel a lack of confidence that further translates to diminishing returns in the classroom, especially for autistic students (Orr, 2009). Study after study suggests that teacher confidence is critical in promoting positive and effective inclusive environments (Ben-Arieh & Miller, 2009). Special education teachers often hold more confidence than their general education counterparts (Ben-Arieh & Miller, 2009). This suggests that teamwork and collaboration across the spectrum of general education and special education may represent one of the most important opportunities for promoting and furthering inclusion of students with autism, despite the fact that Autism Spectrum Disorder remains a social stigma in Saudi Arabia (Mashat, Wald & Parsons, 2016, p. 224).
Inclusion has gained increasing currency and acceptance in education. But it is not without controversy and differing opinions. At the heart of the matter, educators take different philosophical stances. Inclusion fundamentally suggests that students with learning disabilities experience the best possible learning outcomes in the least restrictive environment (Schmidt & Venet, 2012; Walker, 2012). An underlying assumption is that the general education classroom presents fewer restrictions for helping an autistic child integrate with mainstream students and social reality. While this is often the philosophical position of special education teachers, it is often not the opinion of many general education teachers. This latter fact is especially evident in the gender divide as male teachers tend to hold negative attitudes about inclusion of children with autism and female teachers welcome the idea (Al-Ahmadi, 2009). Autistic children are viewed by many male general education teachers as disruptive to the learning process of other students and this perspective can greatly diminish the autistic student’s ability to learn and form social connections.
For the most part, general education and special education teachers recognize the value and benefits of training. The quality of training is, however, another subject. Male teachers tend to hold a negative bias about inclusion of children with autism (Al-Ahmadi, 2009). The negative bias is philosophical as it relates to opinions about the role of teachers and education. As male teachers tend to emphasize cognitive/skill development, training for inclusion is most valued in cases that advance ways to improve traditional classroom learning activities (Shahi, 2013). Inclusion training will be viewed more positively by male teachers, for instance, if the training demonstrates how inclusion promotes the learning of mathematics. Similarly, female general education teachers are more likely to understand the benefits of inclusion training when subject matter focuses on socialization and emotional skill development (Shahi, 2013). The research repeatedly shows that exposure to training and experience with inclusion improves teacher attitudes (Allison, 2011; Cipkin & Rizza, 2010; Fuchs, 2009; Glazzard, 2011; Hodkinson & Devarakonda, 2006). Special education teachers, therefore, generally view training as both professionally effective and rewarding (Gao & Mager, 2011).
Studies show that i