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Disability Justice and Autism: Critical and Creative Approaches

Education Webinar 2024

Hosted by the Canadian Association of Sociology of Education (CASE) and the Canadian Sociological Association's Sociology of Education Research Cluster (CSA)

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Moderator: Christine Corso, University of Toronto

Presenter 1:
Dr. Patricia Douglas, Inaugural Chair in Student Success and Wellness, Associate Professor | Disability Studies, Queen’s University

Re•Storying autism: A digital storytelling and disability justice approach

Patty Douglas (she/they) is an Associate Professor of Disability Studies and the Inaugural Research Chair in Student Success and Wellness in the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University. Her research challenges deficit approaches to disability at the intersection of difference using critical and creative approaches including disability studies, mad (m)othering, decolonial studies and arts-based and creative methodologies. Douglas founded and currently leads the Re•Storying Autism in Education project (www.restoryingautism.com), a multimedia storytelling project in Canada, the UK and Aotearoa (New Zealand) that collaboratively reimagines autism and practice in education and health in ways that centre historically excluded perspectives and affirm and desire difference. As a white settler academic, Douglas is deeply committed to decolonizing research. She identifies as neurodivergent and invisibly disabled. Her monograph, Unmothering Autism: Ethical Disruptions and Affirming Care is in production with UBC Press.

Presenter 2:
Jennie Burton, PhD Candidate, University of Alberta

Putting Education Back Together: A Critical Discourse Analysis Approach to FindingSpaces for Autistic Children in Alberta Schools

Alberta Education has a long history of viable inclusive reform initiatives; however, implementation difficulties maintain a pedagogical division between regular and special programming. While policies pay lip service to a unified system, practice is constrained by accountability pressures and administrative practices anchored to a deficit-oriented value system (Williamson & Gilham, 2017). Educational decision making fixed to deficit thinking is problematic for autists, whose enigmatic and often immutable behaviours bump up against traditional approaches to teaching and learning. As a result, Alberta school districts have rationalised educational programs exclusively for autists. While enrolment remains tied to public schools, students are housed in separate classrooms equipped with locked doors and seclusion rooms. Despite public disapproval over the use of seclusion (Inclusion Alberta, 2018), Alberta Education grants schools’ autonomy in implementing practices involving seclusion and physical restraint (Ministerial Order #042/2019). Policies endorsing ‘timeout’ practices correlated with “long lasting and meaningful social and psychological injuries'' (Blanco et al., 2016, p. 189) while simultaneously prioritising the safety, security, and wellbeing of students exemplifies the contraries within policies confusing the realisation of a unified system. Research utilising a critical discourse analysis framework to identify incongruities caught within the policy-practice gap is designed to move beyond the perpetual inclusion-exclusion debate to reconsider the appropriateness of a divided system. Understanding how policy power and authority impacts the ways ‘discourse’ transcends into decision making can help shift thinking away from seeking justifications for why autists should be included to challenge the educational system’s justification for not including autists.