University of Sussex
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Towards inclusion: influences of culture and internationalisation on personhood, educational access, policy and provision for students with autism in Ghana

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:21 authored by Jane H Anthony
This research explores the ways in which local knowledge, attitudes and beliefs surrounding disability influence the socially constructed experience of autism in Ghana. It further explores the impact of these beliefs on educational access, policy and provision as well as on inclusion in wider society for both children with autism and their families. It is argued throughout that conceptualisations of both autism and disability are subtly, and at times unconsciously, shaped by cultural influences as well as individual experiences. Using semi-structured interviews, participatory methods and text analysis, this thesis first examines internationally accepted diagnostic criteria for cultural relevancy and concludes that while 'autism'does indeed transcend cultural barriers, its presentation is nonetheless culturally bound. The presentation of each of autism's 'triad of impairments' is explored in Ghana, namely communication and socialisation impairments alongside a restricted range of interests and repetitive behaviour patterns. Significantly, the experience of autism demonstrated in this thesis, at both a personal and familial level, is linked to, and negotiated through, cultural belief systems. A relatively shared 'worldview', understood as the culturally mediated lens through which autism and impairment are understood and managed in Ghanaian society, is outlined. Traditional values, a deep sense of spirituality and communal kinship responsibilities are highlighted. Next, an exploration of causal attributions, valued and de-valued personhood traits and the expected role of an adult in society each highlights significant influences on the perception and management of autism in Ghana. Throughout, this thesis focuses on the impact of autism, as constructed and understood in urban Ghana, on the individual, one's kin and broader society. The second half of this thesis focuses on educational access, policy and provision with particular attention to Ghana's burgeoning inclusive education efforts. Conceptualisations of disability and difference, as negotiated through Ghanaian culture, norms and history are explored alongside the implications of these beliefs in designing educational provision for students with autism as well as the socio-political pressures to adhere to large scale international movements such as Education for All (EFA). In particular, tensions between local and international conceptualisations of 'disability' and 'inclusion' are highlighted and it is concluded that adoption of international declarations into local policy, and subsequently into local practice, needs to be better negotiated alongside culturally relevant systems and beliefs. International declarations, rooted in a social model of disability, are found to clash with local conceptualisations of disability rooted in an often intuitive understanding of disability consistent with an individual model. However, consistency with an individual model did not equate to biomedical understandings of disability, which was instead mediated through a lens of socialrelational causation and management more consistent with religious or cultural models of disability. It is concluded that acknowledging and respecting Ghanaian understandings of disability is a prerequisite to ensuring inclusion of children with autism, both in education and their community. Adoption of laudable rights based international declarations must also ensure adaptation to local culture and context. Conclusions and recommendations for synergy between advocacy for, and education of, students with autism in Ghana are proffered.


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