Carnegie Education

Exploring parental perceptions of barriers to inclusive education of autistic children

Research student spotlight | Balaraba Ubanyero John

Published on 01 Jan 2021
Balarabra John

Balaraba Ubanyero John is a PhD student in the Carnegie School of Education at Leeds Beckett University. Her interests are in research, teaching and counselling. Prior to starting her PhD, she worked as a school counsellor in Nigeria. Balaraba shares with us why she chose to do a PhD and her experience at Leeds Beckett so far.

  • Thesis title: Exploring parental perceptions of barriers to inclusive education of autistic children
  • Research supervisors: Dr Susan Atkinson and Dr Nina Martin

Tell us a bit about yourself and your path into the PhD programme

The desire to do a PhD was born out of my interest in autism and supporting parents’ voices for the inclusion of children with autism in mainstream schools.

My first time of seeing an autistic child was in a mainstream school where I was a counsellor. He was the son of a colleague in the school. Although my colleague brought the child to school regularly, the child had never been part of the classroom learning. She left the child with the security officers at the school’s main entrance any time she came to work. She did that because the school, where she worked as a teacher, could not admit her child because he was autistic. Moreover, she did not want her child to be ridiculed by teachers or bullied by peers.

This went on for years as the school where we both worked could not accept the child for lack of knowledge of autism and special needs teachers. I was personally touched as I was part of those without the knowledge and understanding of autism. That was when I made up my mind to explore parents’ experiences of barriers in educating their autistic child. I am doing this in the hope that this research will bring about awareness of autism, implementation and improvement of the policies for special educational needs.

Why did you choose Leeds Beckett? 

I saw Leeds Beckett as a very nice university with great opportunities for students, especially international students. I wanted a place where I could grow, develop my research skills and, of course, learn from the best. I was assured by the information on the university website that it would provide all those, and then I started the application process. The Graduate School was swift with their response, which I found very impressive.

I found everything I read on their website to be true! Leeds Beckett has all the facilities needed for my research. They have world-class academics and modern facilities, including two libraries situated at Headingley and City Campuses.

I also like the city’s diversity: you meet people from different cultures, faith groups and backgrounds. There are lots of opportunities to join different groups and societies, and I made many friends.

What is your research about and what makes you passionate about it?

My research explores parents’ experiences of barriers to inclusion of autistic children’s educational needs in Nigeria. Nigeria is faced with lack of autism awareness and insufficient knowledge of the condition. Due to the lack or insufficient knowledge of autism, there is delay in its detection and subsequent intervention. Consequently, parents are faced with challenges when it comes to educating their autistic children as they cannot access formal schools. In some instances, children who got admitted in school later drop out when they can no longer cope. The society also assumes that these children are cursed because of their parents’ sins or wrongdoing. Most parents that are faced with this situation resolve to alternative methods of interventions, such as traditional medicines, religious centres and therapies or lock up the child at home for fear of being stigmatised.

I am doing a qualitative study, which is exploratory, in the sense that it examines in detail parents’ personal experiences using semi-structured face-to-face interviews. This research employs Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) as the analytical method. IPA was chosen because it is flexible and helps in understanding and exploring personal experiences which suit the framework of qualitative research.

How have you applied what you’ve learnt from your work at the Carnegie School of Education?

Leeds Beckett has impacted my life positively, since being here I have participated and dedicated my time in research and other interesting activities. Some of these activities involved trying to make students’ voices heard as the Postgraduate Research (PGR) Representative in the Leeds Beckett Students' Union (LBSU), Postgraduate Representative at Carnegie School of Education (CSE) Academic Board, LBU International Student Ambassador, Unibuddy and BAME Ambassador. These roles have given me the opportunity to become quite well versed with the systems in place within our university and students’ needs. Furthermore, the roles have enabled me to be aware of issues around university and academic life and how to create a balance. It is interesting to know that I have acquired transferrable skills in these roles, such as patience, communication and leadership skills. I find them useful whenever I share my university experience with prospective students and listen to their feedback.

We have had favourable responses to that effect, such as the CSE Research Forum, which brings together all postgraduate research students in the school, and the virtual community space that serves CSE postgraduate students and the postgraduate research student study space that serves all Leeds Beckett postgraduate research students.

How would you reflect on your time as a postgraduate researcher at Leeds Beckett?

When I first arrived at Leeds Beckett, I had no inkling of what the people, faculty, school or academic experience would be like. However, it turned out that I have had memorable experiences from my first day on campus to date. I have met some amazing people in my school and The Graduate School that have shaped the course of my life. I have developed a strong confidence in research which I never had before coming to Leeds Beckett. My leadership, relationship and networking skills have also improved. Leeds Beckett has given me the opportunity to make my voice and other people’s voice heard through my roles as PGR Representative for LBSU and School Academic Board Committee.

What comes to mind any time I reflect on my time as a postgraduate researcher at Leeds Beckett is the ‘platform’ given to me to express myself, be heard, learn, grow and enjoy every bit of my postgraduate research journey. I get awesome support from the school which is why I refer to Carnegie School of Education and Leeds Beckett as my home away from home!

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