Macquarie University
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Experiences of school choice and change for mothers of students diagnosed with autism

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posted on 2022-03-28, 09:26 authored by Rozanna Lilley
This dissertation investigates the experiences of 22 mothers whose children diagnosed with autism were transitioning to school in Sydney, Australia. Qualitative interviews were conducted over three years (2009-2011) focusing on maternal experiences of school choice and change in the early years of formal education. Thematic narrative analysis of the interview transcripts (62 in total) is used to explore ongoing societal processes of stigmatisation and exclusion that shapes the lives of these families. A focus on maternal identity and gendered moralities underpins the analysis. Overall the six publications that comprise the core of this dissertation point to the constraints and dilemmas surrounding primary school placement and an ongoing drift towards segregated classrooms, especially for students diagnosed with both autism and an intellectual disability. The systemic failures to meet the promise of policies of school inclusion are demonstrated at the level of everyday practices by school gatekeepers, educators and bureaucrats. A variety of maternal tactics are deployed to manoeuvre and negotiate within an education field largely defined by professional and institutional strategies. The dissertation is interdisciplinary, drawing on sociology, anthropology and critical disability studies. Theoretically the argument moves in two directions. Firstly, Goffman's conceptualisation of 'courtesy' stigma is reframed to more specifically account for the felt experiences of mothers. Secondly, maternal engagement with various forms of knowledge, both expert (professional guidance) and lay (rumour), is highlighted. Stigma and knowledge negotiation are intertwined in ongoing projects of school choice and school change which, in turn, shape and challenge identity at particular moments of maternal and student careers. School change narratives are used to invert the usual emphasis on the deficits of students diagnosed with autism focusing, instead, on maternal perceptions of the disabling practices of educators. The dissertation concludes with a case for conceptualising these widespread practices as Autism Inclusion Disorder.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction -- Chapter 2. Research design, methods and sample -- Chapter 3. Mind the gap : maternal perceptions of segregated school "choice" for students with autism in New South Wales primary schools -- Chapter 4. It's an absolute nightmare : maternal experiences of enrolling children diagnosed with autism in primary school in Sydney, Australia -- Chapter 5. Crying in the park : autism stigma, school entry and maternal subjectivity -- Chapter 6. Professional guidance : maternal negotiation of primary school placement for children diagnosed with autism -- Chapter 7. Rumour has it : the impact of maternal talk on primary school choice for children diagnosed with autism -- Capter 8. Trading places : autism inclusion disorder and school change -- Chapter 9. Discussion.


Includes bibliographical references Thesis by publication.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Institute of Early Childhood, Children and Families Research Centre

Department, Centre or School

Institute of Early Childhood

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Jennifer M. Bowes

Additional Supervisor 1

Katherine Cologon


Copyright Rozanna Lilley 2014. Copyright disclaimer:




New South Wales


1 online resource (xvi, 259 pages tables)

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