2013 Fieldwork Reports

Christopher R. Osborn (Noida, India)

School Inclusion of Children with Autism in Urban India

Christopher R. Osborn

Culture, Brain, Development and Mental Health

Summer Fieldwork 2013


The following research study examined the inclusion of students with autism in general education settings in an urban Indian setting. Two private schools in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) were recruited and observed over a two month span in the summer of 2013. Between three and four children with a diagnosis of autism were observed at each school over a span of two to three weeks. Observations focused on teaching and behavioral strategies in the classroom as well as socialization with peers in both structured and unstructured settings.

School Info

School #1

The first school attended was a Catholic-based private school located in Noida, a city southeast Delhi. The school caters to children of all ages, with grades spanning first through twelve, and openly practices the inclusion of students of different faiths and academic abilities including the disabled. While there is not a special educator on site, and the head of the school openly admits the staff is not trained in autism intervention, three students on the autism spectrum are currently enrolled in the school. Each are high-functioning and are mainstreamed with neurotypical children 100% of the school day.

Their curriculum is the same as other students, however some modifications are made. For example, the language focus for one child is limited to English, as he is exempted from Hindi and “Third Language.” At the beginning of each school year, the neurotypical students of each class are debriefed that there will be a students enrolled with special needs. The word “autism” is not used when debriefing, but instead that the individual may need some extra help. In addition to the debriefing, the school counselor picks and chooses specific teachers for the child to have throughout the year based on fit, that is picking teachers with high levels of patience and compassion. Also, parents are included in the academic process, as the counselor sits down with each student’s parents throughout the year to discuss curriculum and how the child is doing.

In the basement of the school lies a center for children with more severe disabilities. The center is not directly affiliated with School #1 and has only been on site in the last year. The center has speech and language specialists, as well as occupational therapists and one-to-one aides. While this is a resource the school is able to access, from interviews with staff it is a rarely used amenity for the children that are the scope of this project.

Themes from School #1 Observation:

  • ASD symptoms present the same as in U.S.: social difficulties in certain situations, the presence stereotypic behaviors
  • Peers are aware of each target’s disorder, more patience than typically seen, however only to an extant.
  • All students are Class 7 or above, meaning less structure in social activities. May lead to increased isolation as when structure is introduced, students flourish and appear typical socially.
  • Teachers not trained in behavior management
  • Presence of comorbidity
  • Peers willing to help in transitions

School #2

School #2 is another private school that serves students from primary grades through senior grades and is located in the greater outskirts of Noida. The school opened its doors in 2008 after two years of planning, and openly advertises it is an inclusive school by design with its Special Education Needs (SEN) program that provides opportunities for differently abled children. The current student enrollment is 1,868 with 283 staff members.

The SEN is broken up into three different kinds of classrooms, each marked by a different letter and number that indicate the goal of the class and the level. Classes that start with the letter A stand for academic, with the goal of the class to keep the children enrolled at the same academic level as typical children in the same class level (as indicated by the number) but with extra support. For example, class A-2 is a class with the same curriculum as typical second graders but each student is given extra attention with approximately 4 students to every special educator. In addition to the A level classes, there are F classes which place a greater emphasis on functional needs. In these classes, the students are more impacted by their disability and thus the curriculum shifts to more practical daily needs (such as learning about using money) instead of straight academics. The most impacted students are placed in O classes, which place an emphasis on occupational needs.

Because the primary focus of the present study is to examine students on the autism spectrum that are with typical students throughout the day observations only took place in A classes, as students in F and O classes are rarely integrated with typical children except for the morning assembly. The researcher spent 2-3 days in three different A level classes: A-1, A-2/3, and A-6.

Each classroom is comprised of eight children with different disabilities (including but not limited to learning disability, ADHD, cerebral palsy, autism, and hearing impaired) split into two groups of four. While it is considered one class, the two groups sometimes have different curriculums and participate in different activities throughout the day. Both A-1 and A-2/3 contained one child with autism, while A-6 had two children on the spectrum. Of the four students observed, only the student from A-2/3 is integrated in a general education classroom for a more intense academic subject (math). The rest are only included with typically developing peers during co-curriculars (pottery, art, music, P.E.) and free play and lunch periods.

Themes from School #2 Observation:

  • Teachers are trained well in behavior management, positive reinforcement techniques, and the use of visual aides
  • Students struggle during unstructured social times (lunch, free play)
  • When structured, social activity flourishes
  • Co-curriculars offer little in the way of social opportunities
  • Continued physical separation from typically developing peers in integration of more intense subjects

Overarching Themes

  • Typical students are relatively understanding of children on the spectrum, and are willing to help/redirect. Due to school mantras of inclusion and understanding? Debriefing of classes that a student who may need extra help will be in class?
  • Students with ASD are less rigid than what the observer has seen in the U.S. More open to schedule changes and shifts without prior notification. Due to the chaotic nature of living in Delhi?
  • Intentions of inclusion present, poorly executed in many ways though. No additional help at school #1 (SLP, OT, aide, etc.) at school #1. Students at School #2 are rarely interactive with neurotypical students even though they are proximally close throughout the day. Teachers and school personnel fail to facilitate social interaction.
  • When structure is introduced (organized game, books, etc.) to social situations, students flourish with neurotypical peers.