Inclusive/exclusive? Contradictory perspectives on autism and inclusion: the case for an integrative position

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This paper explores some of the tensions that frequently arise in debates about inclusion and the education of children and young people on the autism spectrum. This debate is often characterised by bipolar thinking and moral posturing, and is obscured by misunderstandings and omissions. This can create confusion for practitioners trying their best to support learners on the spectrum in inclusive classrooms, and does much harm to the inclusion project. This paper identifies some of the recurring entanglements that obfuscate the debate. The main thesis of the paper is that the effective inclusion of children and young people on the autism spectrum requires practitioners to question two dominant and contradictory perspectives within the inclusion literature – the rights-based perspective and the needs-based perspective – which, arguably, polarise thinking at the theoretical level and inclusive practice at classroom level. The specific aim of the paper is to identify oppositional views on labelling and special pedagogies within these two perspectives and critically explore their implications for teachers supporting learners on the autism spectrum. The possibility of an integrative inclusionist position is tentatively explored.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)667-682
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Inclusive Education
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2011



  • inclusion
  • autism
  • special needs
  • labelling
  • special pedagogies

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