The Voices of Autistic Adolescents on Diversity, Education and School Learning in Poland
“(v) Recognizing the importance of accessibility to the physical, social, economic and cultural environment, to health and education and to information and communication; (n) recognizing the importance for persons with disabilities of their individual autonomy and independence, including the freedom to make their own choices; (o) considering that persons with disabilities should have the opportunity to be actively involved in decision-making processes about policies and programmes, including those directly concerning them” .
“Represent a large and influential cadre of scholars who continue to push the boundaries of social justice research and scholarship in the field of education. The work of this larger community of scholars is both ontologically and epistemologically diverse; that is, notable ariations exist in theoretical perspective, research methodology, the role of research participants and the nature of their knowledge ”.
- How do students on the autistic spectrum perceive their own education?
- What experiences shape their evaluation of the education system and the realization of their right to education?
- How do they understand “good” and “bad” education in the context of their diverse needs?
- What changes do they need, what do they expect and what actions do they take to fight for their rights?
- What, in their opinion, supports and what hinders the realization of the goals of inclusive education and the social integration of persons on the autistic spectrum in the context of the functioning of the education system in Poland?
- Lessons in Diversity—audiovisual material posted on the YouTube channel of the Autism Team Foundation from Łódź (https://www.youtube.com/@FundacjaAutismTeam, accessed on 30 November 2022), produced in April 2021 as part of a social campaign to mark World Autism Awareness Day, which is a recording of a conversation with students on the autistic spectrum from the Autism Team Foundation’s Aware Youth Club.
- Conscious Youth Club pages on social media (https://www.facebook.com/klubswiadomejmlodziezylodz, accessed on 30 November 2022).
3.1. Relationships with Peers
“At school always, e.g., at PE classes, nobody ever wanted to pick me for the team to play, I was always last or not accepted to play at all”.
“At school I was definitely different to most people, I was afraid to talk to other children, I got along with the janitor lady sooner than with other people”.
“In primary school I was beaten by a top student with her friends in the bathroom”.
“More than once I met with students who, who just said: what are you doing, what are you doing here? You are abnormal”.
“Some people knew, however, that I didn’t understand the concept of secrecy and they questioned me about things and then they were talking behind my back”.
“A lot of people loved to take advantage of me and if I didn’t do something they wanted me to do (e.g., I didn’t give them money for beer, etc.) I was either beaten up or they made up that I had beaten them up”.
“A teacher should have the courage to speak loudly—both when good things happen—in which case he or she should praise and appreciate—and when someone experiences evil before his or her eyes”.
“During the first classes of the school, conduct a parenting lesson so that the pupils, together with the teacher, can familiarise themselves with the autistic spectrum of the respective pupil in the class”.
“The most important thing is to make other students and their parents aware of neurodiversity”.
3.2. Relationships with Teachers
“My favourite teacher is maths teacher Mrs J from primary school, even though I don’t like maths. She was able to find something in me that other teachers couldn’t. She didn’t score me out, she just looked for a way to help me”.
“The physics teacher is okay. I like the man. He makes me forget that he is a teacher. We do important talks in this class and they are often not about physics but about me. About my passion for insects and skateboards”.
“I owe a lot to Mrs. J., the Polish teacher. Mrs. J. thought I had talent, although she did not spare any criticism. But the criticism was positive, in a good way, she NEVER ridiculed me in front of the class… Out of all the ideas and stories that swarmed in my head, out of those dreams of adventures I had read so much about, the idea of writing a book was born. I wrote, I plotted. After the summer holidays, I bragged about it at school. My friends were curious, Mrs J was delighted… She made sure that what I was creating made sense and could be enjoyed. It was she who made sure that I did not deviate from the path of creativity, that I did not give up my talent despite the adversities I had to face in my adult life”.
“It wasn’t until I got Mrs W, a support teacher, that I felt safe at school”.
“I had a wonderful support teacher—Mrs I—who I even went on trips with and my mum didn’t have to go with me”.
- Ignoring, ridiculing and insulting students on the autistic spectrum: “Not involving me in any major issue or even keeping quiet, avoiding my person or throwing all sorts of nasty slogans in the air like “What does she look like?””
- Punishment, e.g., by giving low marks: “I had marks put in the class register for no reason, even for someone beating me up and there was proof, or for not being at school on certain days and having a solid excuse from my parents and doctor”.
- Threatening and using a raised voice: “She would even snatch my pen out of my hand because she didn’t like it and for me to write with her pen because she “just wanted”. She shouted at me a lot, threatened to beat me up many times, etc”.
- Lack of understanding of the needs of the student: “Generally, it was bad. I used to go in normally because there was a damaged locker that you could go into. I would go in there and lock myself in … and I had a punishment anyway. For sitting in the locker because there was overstimulation and stress”.
- Abuse of power: “One high school maths teacher forced me to change my maths school leaving examination level from extended to basic”.
3.3. School Sensory Environment
“I really hated the noise at break time, I would look at where to hide e.g., bathroom etc. not to hear that noise so much”.
“The hardest part is surviving the break. It’s a long time without a plan and the noise is such that my brain swells in my head”.
“I hate that loud bell, when it rings my whole body hurts inside, I can feel it drilling into my head. It’s a big stress for me, my stomach hurts and my legs and arms get stiff. The worst part is the waiting…when it rings—it’s such an accumulation of anxiety and anger. When the sound passes I come back to life, but I’m totally exhausted”.
“I really hated it when she shouted, she had a very high and loud voice, I couldn’t stand it when she shouted and I used to plug my ears all the time”.
“Teachers, please: do not shout or use aggression if a pupil does not understand something and, for example, asks for it to be repeated. Shouting has quite the opposite effect on such people and makes them completely uninterested in school, learning, etc”.
“I hide under the stairs. I have my own place. ‘Get out immediately’ they often say”.
“The teachers didn’t understand that these were noise-cancelling headphones… they told me to take them off, that they were music headphones and things like that”.
“We are calling for a school… where soundproofing rooms will be a standard, not a fad”.
“We want the school to be a welcoming place for all of us, where diversity will be accepted, where each of us will find a comfort zone to return to the next day”.
3.4. Teaching and Learning
“It will be nice if our teachers appreciate our passions and use them in learning in different ways. It’s a strong motivation for us to work”.
“It strengthens me when you notice my passions”.
“Mrs M. discovered that I see something more in books, that this is my passion, my life, my inspiration. That’s why she was so dedicated to finding me better, more interesting and more grown-up books. She quickly realised that I read faster than other children and she would find me books that she thought would be suitable for me and that I would enjoy”.
“First of all, I feel very negative about the whole education system. I concluded a very long time ago that this system we have is basically impractical. There is a lot of stuff that is useless in my life. I lack life’s practical content… Why do I need to know this? About Hector and Achilles precisely because he was some kind of god just there, instead of, for example, writing a CV”.
“I have, unfortunately, dysgraphia, just my handwriting is illegible, I can’t even read it myself, and yet the teachers say go on, just sort of telling me to write”.
“A: And tell me, have you ever felt that you were unfairly graded?”
“B: When the teacher gave me an outline map. I have dysgraphia and he told me to mark a specific place on the map”.
“You can meet nice teachers in school, but unfortunately teachers sometimes, like most people, think in stereotypes—they stick to an old system that no longer works, has become invalid, doesn’t work”.
“In mass schools, for the most part… unnecessary schemas are being taught”.
3.5. Activism and Self-Advocacy
“Pupils in the autistic spectrum want their neurodiversity not to be treated as a defect requiring reprimand and constant striving for improvement”.
“We children and young people on the autistic spectrum want to tell the whole world that diversity is important and needed”.
“The student as a human being is defined by their inalienable right to have their humanity respected, the right to accept their differences—that is Diversity”.
“Don’t treat people on the spectrum like people with other disorders or illnesses as inferior. These are the same people as any of us. Just because someone was born on the autistic spectrum doesn’t mean they are inferior. There are times when we need more support and help than others. But that doesn’t mean that people on the spectrum are inferior. They are never inferior/worse, they are just of a different character, different tastes etc. And that does not mean the word bad. The word “different” does not mean “bad”. And I say this sincerely as a person with an autistic spectrum diagnosis and a self-advocate”.
“I wish all students, especially students developing on the autistic spectrum, that respecting their right to education with respect for their humanity is a standard and not a privilege that must be earned”.
“We hear, feel and understand everything… even if we don’t seem capable of it. That’s what always surprises us the most, that adults don’t get that their bad words stay with us”.
“Self-advocates want to participate fully in the education process and all decisions made by adults that affect them. They want their voices to be heard and taken seriously, with the attention they deserve”.
“In relation to Autism Awareness Month, I would like to say together with my divers friends that our voice is important. We want to speak, to express what we feel and what we need and what is important to us. The world does not always allow us to do this. Too often the world knows for us what we want and need. We want to change that”.
“Autism Awareness Day is the kind of day when students on the autistic spectrum want to speak out, first and foremost, about their right to humanity and to be treated with respect at school too—and not about their deficits, which are very often pointed out to them at school level”.
“Speaker 3: Would you like teachers to know about our passions?
Speaker 4: Yes, so that they also know that they can also be young self-advocates’.
Speaker 3: And for them to take it seriously?
Speaker 4: Yes, so that it is for real and not with doubt”.
“And there comes a moment when I switch off—no more cooperation with the adult world of the wise. I am tired of you guys. With your doubt in me and another idea ‘for my socialization’”.
“Don’t think stereotypically, don’t think stereotypically, talk to autistic people talk to their parents”.
“There is often a lack of conversation at school, I mean the one with real and attentive listening. I have a lot to say but few opportunities to express it in my own way. I’m tired of people telling me what to do to be like everyone else. I don’t want to be like everyone else. I can’t even imagine it. It’s then I disappear into myself and I’m gone”.
“We, young people on the autistic spectrum, call for the vigilance of all those who support us—we are a partner in this journey—we are not just an object of therapy”.
“Ask our opinion always and in every situation. We are not just objects for therapy, we need wise, healthy partnership relations that support us, strengthen us, not fix us”.
“We need to know and get to know your ideas on how to support us and most importantly we want to understand and have an impact. We don’t want to live a life of just ‘going from therapy to therapy’ or education—YES, these are very important—but there is life beyond them—and we are left with less and less time for this life. We masquerade in these therapies and at school sometimes so much that we no longer have the strength for an ordinary life. For passions, for free time in our own way. Passion is our great strength and gives us the will to act”.
- Incorporating sound, unadulterated knowledge about the autistic spectrum and about the abilities, needs and rights of students with autism into educational and parenting programs.
- Creating functional, interesting and safe school spaces that resonate with the needs of people with autism , including the removal of sensory barriers in schools.
- Schools taking measures aimed at the prevention of peer violence, which should involve all actors in school life, i.e., pupils, teachers, all other school staff and the parents and carers of pupils.
- Responding to diverse learning needs by considering students’ interests, forms of activity, expression and engagement in the educational process.
- Strengthening the right of every young person, including students on the autistic spectrum, to be involved in the life of the school and the community. The school should teach social participation and democracy and be co-managed by the students, which is related to the evolution of the school paradigm—from authoritarian to democratic .
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Conflicts of Interest
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|Main Categories and Subcategories||Codes|
|Relations in education: ||Verbal abuse by peers;|
Feelings of otherness, fear and rejection;
Teachers as allies and a source of support;
Lack of understanding and consideration of the needs, knowledge and competencies of students with ASD;
Feeling of being treated unfairly, lack of relationship to peer violence;
Verbal abuse and passive aggression by teachers, use of punishment.
|School sensory environment||Noise and excess of other stimuli;|
The need to shelter and hide;
Lack of understanding of sensory overload and pupils’ needs.
|Teaching and learning||Inadequate teaching and learning practices, lack of integration of content and needed adaptations;|
Underestimation and lack of reference to the knowledge and competence of students with ASD.
|Activism and self-advocacy||Acceptance, appreciation and recognition of diversity as a value;|
Respect for human rights, gender equality;
Recognition of students’ subjectivity, their right to speak up and make decisions on their own issues;
Being tired of adults who “know better”;
The need for attention, listening and conversation.
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Pawlik, S.; Rzeźnicka-Krupa, J.; Gierczyk, M.; Hornby, G. The Voices of Autistic Adolescents on Diversity, Education and School Learning in Poland. Educ. Sci. 2023, 13, 368. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci13040368
Pawlik S, Rzeźnicka-Krupa J, Gierczyk M, Hornby G. The Voices of Autistic Adolescents on Diversity, Education and School Learning in Poland. Education Sciences. 2023; 13(4):368. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci13040368Chicago/Turabian Style
Pawlik, Sabina, Jolanta Rzeźnicka-Krupa, Marcin Gierczyk, and Garry Hornby. 2023. "The Voices of Autistic Adolescents on Diversity, Education and School Learning in Poland" Education Sciences 13, no. 4: 368. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci13040368