In 1943 Abraham Maslow developed his hierarchy of needs, arguing that all humans need to feel a sense of belongingness in their social groups, and that this need is especially strong in children. Inclusion, especially in educational settings, whatever differences children and young people may display, is crucial to becoming a complete human being. Currently, in most Western countries, despite increasing recognition of the wide variety of differences and deviations from what is considered "normal," autism or Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is poorly understood and often results in exclusionary practices and stereotyping. How young people who are subject to these practices experience their educational treatment is the subject of this insightful book, which puts young people labelled as autistic at the centre of debate. The voices of autistic young people are seldom heard, but the research on which this book is based,- which includes the recorded voices of the young people interviewed and observed, rectifies this usual exclusion. Listening to young people describe their loneliness, isolation, anxieties, being bullied and excluded, and also their views on how their schooling and lives could be improved provides the basis for a significant change of policy, practice and understanding of the increasing numbers of young people living with the difference described as autism.

Although the setting for the study is in Northern Ireland, where an Autism Act in 2011 recognised Autistic Spectrum Disorder as a disability, (and the issues and debates mirror some of the legislation and debates in England and Wales), the problems of recognition and support for the young people are global. The author has worked with autistic young people in many settings and set out to bridge the gap between theory and practice. Readers will find myriad descriptions of autism from Leo Kanners and Hans Aspergers 1940s theories to Fletcher-Watson and Happe's 2019 book which notes the under- diagnosis of girls with autistic behaviours, and theories ranging from genetic to 'refrigerator mothers'. The book ranges through the social model versus medical models of disability, and the debates about the meaning of inclusive education for young people who still need labels and 'diagnosis' to claim what were Statements, now Education, Health and Care Plans and resources.

While international advocacy of a right-based education and an inclusive education for all is a United Nations goal, how this can actually happen when education systems remain unchanged and limited teacher preparation remains problematic. What is missing in all the debate is the actual voice of the young people themselves. This direct inclusion is what the book sets out to do, and includes not only the views and comments but also the evocative drawings of how young people aged 11-17, (participating with their and parental consent) see their 'mainstream' schooling and treatment. After all "The lives and experiences of these children should be our guide to improving education, not ideology" (p52).

The surprising thing about the descriptions of their educational experiences, is that although the young people exhibited much negative treatment, they were also able to offer positive experiences and comments on how their education could be improved. Thus, the negative experiences, which many parents and care-givers also will have coped with, included feelings of dread and anxiety before school and the possibility of loneliness, isolation, being bullied and "being an outsider" when at school. Stress and dread included feeling frightened of hearing and sensory overload, social pressures and "too many people" around. Secondary schools "'swarmed with people often calling you geeks or weirdo's and sometimes hitting you". But positive experiences, especially noted by the girls included in the study, included the care of supportive teachers who 'understood you' and curriculum adaptation which made learning easier. The need for a safe space to de-stress and socialise with similar young people was also requested, - (so that they did not have to escape to the toilets!), and smaller classes which allowed for more personalised attention. Of particular interest was that the young people did not equate inclusion with the inclusion of everyone. They found it difficult to describe inclusion when they had never been fully included. But they did want to be included in mainstream schooling with support in place, teachers that were non-judgmental and understanding of their 'difference'.

Listening to the young people it was obvious that education systems as they have developed in western countries, that still provide global models, are not places that accept and include all children and young people. While all the exclusionary practices the systems incorporate are a much wider topic, this book about the experiences of autistic children resonates with the message Maslow gave years ago- that inclusion is not necessarily a place, it is overwhelmingly a need for a sense of belonging and feeling valued.

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Copyright (c) 2020 Sally Tomlinson

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