Special units for young people on the autistic spectrum in mainstream schools: sites of normalisation, abnormalisation, inclusion, and exclusion
This paper explores the experiences of young people on the autistic spectrum (AS) who attend a special unit within a mainstream secondary school in England. The paper feeds into contemporary debates about the nature of inclusive schooling and, more broadly, special education. Young people on the AS have been largely neglected within these debates. The paper focuses upon processes of normalisation and abnormalisation to which the young people on the AS are subject, and how these are interconnected with inclusion and exclusion within school spaces. At times, the unit is a container for the abnormally behaving. However, processes of normalisation pervade the unit, attempting to rectify the deviant mind–body–emotions of the young people on the AS to enable their inclusion within the mainstream school. Normalisation is conceptualised as a set of sociospatially specific and contextual practices; norms emerge as they are enacted, and via a practical sense of the abnormal. Norms are sometimes reworked by the young people on the AS, whose association with the unit renders them a visible minority group. Thus, despite some problems, special units can promote genuine ‘inclusive’ education, in which norms circulating mainstream school spaces are transformed to accept mind–body–emotional differences. Keywords: inclusive education, autistic spectrum, disability, special educational needs, young people, mainstream schools, normalisation, abnormalisation, special units
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