How Principals Positively Affect the Schooling of Students with Autism Spectrum Conditions: A Swedish Approach

Apr 28 2022

Key Takeaway: 

Leaders should know how inclusion is practiced in their setting and how students’ voices are heard to inform inclusive practices and personalize learning. It is vital that principals understand their role in creating inclusive school environments by using effective tools to support the implementation of such practices because inclusion involves all members of the community. —Frankie Garbutt

A Policy Change

Inclusion involves shared values and expectations as well as classroom strategies and leadership that all work towards the common goal of meeting the diverse needs of pupils in the context of the school. Thus, school leaders and administrators must pave the way for how inclusion is practiced in their schools. 

Commonly, students with autism spectrum conditions (ASC) are placed in special schools or personalized programs. Changes to Swedish policies now dictate that students with ASC are to be placed in mainstream settings, which might put a strain on the staff and students alike. However, “equivalent education does not mean that the education should be the same everywhere or that the resources of the school are to be allocated equally. Account should be taken of the varying circumstances and needs of pupils. There are also different ways of attaining these goals. The school has a special responsibility for those pupils who for different reasons experience difficulties in attaining the goals that have been set up for their education. For this reason, education can never be the same for all.”

The Study 

This study by Lüddeckens and Anderson (Malmö University) and Östlund (Kristianstad University) focuses on three questions:

  1. “What commitment and actions do principals consider important for developing an inclusive school for all students, with a particular focus on students with ASC?
  2. How do the principals reflect on their own leadership in the development of inclusive education, with a particular focus on students with ASC? 
  3. Based on the results, what are the implications of the study in practice?”

Six principles were interviewed, and data was thematically analyzed by the authors to identify patterns and best practices for the future. The authors used thematic analysis to identify patterns in the data in relation to participants’ lived experience, perspectives, behavior, and practices. 


One of the main findings was the conceptualization of inclusion as “the students’ own sense of participation in school, with the implication that it is important to consider the student perspective in decision-making process.” However, one aspect that recurred throughout the study was accountability and how adults might unknowingly create barriers by their attitude toward students, including what and how something is said, the way students access knowledge, and how students demonstrate their learning. 

The authors suggest that policies and frameworks ought to be accessible by all staff and that observations and continued professional development should be essential to creating an inclusive environment for all students. Inclusive leadership “requires good knowledge of special education in addition to the ability to listen and demonstrate a high ethical pathos with authentic, visionary and sustainable leadership.” 

Summarized Article:

Lüddeckens, J., Anderson, L., & Östlund, D. (2021). Principals’ perspectives of inclusive education involving students with autism spectrum conditions–a Swedish case study. Journal of Educational Administration.

Summary by: Frankie Garbutt – Frankie believes that the MARIO Framework encourages students to become reflective, independent learners who progress at their own rate.

Academic researchers Johanna Lüddeckens and Lotta Anderson participated in the final version of this summary. 

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