Mamae Nui me te Takiwātanga: Surplus suffering and autism spectrum disorder in school social work practice

Liam M. Oades


INTRODUCTION: This research investigates social work interventions available for Social Workers based in primary schools in Aotearoa New Zealand, to address surplus suffering related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The aim of this research is to explore possible interventions by reviewing literature, and investigating the practice of professionals, in order to discern the best possible practice. The research questions that will be investigated are: 1) How do social workers in primary schools address the surplus suffering of students?; and 2) What interventions are employed when working with children on the spectrum? There is limited relevant literature; however, the published material suggests that most social workers in schools who work with children on the spectrum employ social-ecological perspectives.

METHOD: Qualitative methodologies have been employed, focusing on semi-structured interviews that were designed to answer the pre-set questions while also taking note of other concepts and ideas raised by the interviewees. This study has employed social-ecological theory, as well as social theories of disability.

FINDINGS: This research has found that, while social workers employ social-ecological interventions readily, they are reluctant to engage in potentially beneficial therapeutic techniques.

IMPLICATIONS: The implications suggested by this research are the need for diversification in social work training, and the need for further research to discern the best school social work practice.


Autism; SWIS; school; neuro-diversity

Full Text:



Abdoola, F., Flack, P. S., & Karrim, S. B. (2017). Facilitating pragmatic skills through role-play in learners with language learning disability. The South African Journal of Communication Disorders = Die Suid-Afrikaanse tydskrif vir Kommunikasieafwykings, 64(1), 1–12. doi:10.4102/sajcd.v64i1.187

Adams, C., Lockton, E., Freed, J., Gaile, J., Earl, G., McBean, K., Nash, M., Green, J., Vail, A., & Law, J. (2012). The Social Communication Intervention Project: A randomized controlled trial of the effectiveness of speech and language therapy for school-age children who have pragmatic and social communication problems with or without autism spectrum disorder. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 47(3), 233–244. https://doi-org.ezproxy.manukau.

Adams, W. C. (2015). Conducting semi-structured interviews. In J. Wholey, H. Hatry, & K. Newcomer (Eds.), Handbook of practical program evaluation (pp. 492–505). doi:10.1002/9781119171386.ch19

American Speech Language Hearing Association. (2019). Autism.

Autism New Zealand. (2020). Definitions. https://www.

Centre for Disease Control. (2018). What is autism spectrum disorder?

Chilisa, B. (2012). Indigenous research methodologies. SAGE.

Clarke, J., & Van Amerom, G., (2007). “Surplus suffering”: Differences between organizational understandings of Asperger’s syndrome and those people who claim the “disorder.” Disability & Society, 22(7), 761–776. doi:10.1080/09687590701659618

Creswell, J. (2003). Research design (2nd ed.). Sage.

Dash, G., & Mohan, A. K. (2015). Scope and challenges of social work in schools: Perspectives of teachers and social organizations. International Journal of Applied Research. 1(11), 550–556. PartH/1-11-23.pdf

D’Astous, V., Manthorpe, J., Lowton, K., & Glaser, K. (2016). Retracing the historical social care context of autism: A narrative overview. British Journal of Social Work, 46, 789–807. doi:10.1093/bjsw/bcu131

Dinishak, J. (2016). The deficit view and its critics. Disability Studies Quarterly, 36(4).

Elsabbagh, M., Divan, G., Koh, Y. J., Kim, Y. S., Kauchali, S., Marcín, C., Montiel-Nava, C., Patel, V., Paula, C. S., Wang, C., Taghi Yasamy, M., & Fombonne, E. (2012). Global prevalence of autism and other pervasive developmental disorders. Autism Research, 5(3), 160–179.

Eveslage, M. (2012). School social workers’ perspectives on working with children with autism spectrum disorders [Unpublished master’s thesis]. St Catherine University, St. Paul, MN. cgi?article=1022&context=msw_papers

Foster, M. V. (2015). School social workers’ role in supporting parents of a child with autism [Unpublished master’s thesis]. St Catherine University, St. Paul, MN. cgi?article=1449&context=msw_papers

Gill, P., Stewart, K. Treasure, E., & Chadwick, B. (2008). Methods of data collection in qualitative research: Interviews and focus groups. British Dental Journal, 204, 291–295.

Gilgun, J. F. (1994). A case for case studies in social work research. Social Work, 39(4), 371–380. https://doi. org/10.1093/sw/39.4.371

Grasu, M. (2015). Practical aspects of the intervention on children with autism spectrum disorder. Scientific Annals of the Alexandru Ioan Cuza University. New Series Sociology and Social Work section, 8(1).

Greenwood, D., & Lowenthal, D. (2005). Case study as a means of research social work and improving practitioner education. Journal of Social Work Practice, 19(2), 181–193. doi:10.1080/02650530500144782

Hens, K. (2019). The many meanings of autism: Conceptual and ethical reflections. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology. full/10.1111/phc3.12559

Higgins, N. (2005). Changing school culture through action research and leadership. Waikato Journal of Education, 11(2), 17–37.

Hwang, S., Kim, Y. S., Koh, Y. J., & Leventhal, B. L. (2018). Autism spectrum disorder and school bullying: Who is the victim? Who is the perpetrator? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 48(1), 225–238. https://

Iannuzzi, D., Connors, S. L., Broder-Fingert, S., & Kopecky, K. (2015). Addressing the needs of individuals with autism: Role of hospital-based social workers in implementation of a patient-centered care plan. Health and Social Work, (3), 245–249. https://academic.oup. com/hsw

Iachini, A., Berkowitz, R., Moore, H., Pitner, R., Astor, R., & Benbenishty, R. (2017). School climate and school social work practice. Encyclopaedia of social work. 9780199975839-e-1195

Karal, M. A., & Wolfe, P. S. (2018). Social story effectiveness on social interaction for students with autism: A review of the literature. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 53(1), 44–58.

Kayama, M., & Haight, W. (2014). Disability and stigma: How Japanese educators help parents accept their children’s differences. Social Work, 59(1), 24–33. doi:10.1093/sw/ swt027

Kids Health. (n.d.). Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). https://

Klusek, J., Martin, G. E., & Losh, M. (2014). A comparison of pragmatic language in boys with autism and fragile X syndrome. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 57(5), 1692–1707. doi:10.1044/2014_ JSLHR-L-13-0064

Manukau Institute of Technology. (2017). Manukau Institute of Technology guidelines for ethical approval. https:// files/2400753?module_item_id=573394

Masten, C. L., Colich, N. L., Rudie, J. D., Bookheimer, S. Y., Eisenberger, N. I., & Dapretto, M. (2011). An fMRI investigation of responses to peer rejection

in adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 1(3), 260–270. doi:10.1016/j.dcn.2011.01.004

McLean, M. T. (2011, Summer). Marion‘s message: Working internationally: How to identify (and avoid) cultural imperialism. Midwifery Today, 8. https://ezproxy. id=43986

Minhas, A., Vajaratkar, V., Divan, G., Hamdani, S. U., Leadbitter, K., Taylor, C., Aldred, C., Tariq, A., Tariq, M., Cardoza, P., Green, J., Patel, V., & Rahman, A. (2015). Parents’ perspectives on care of children with autistic spectrum disorder in South Asia: Views from Pakistan and India. International Review of Psychiatry, 27(3), 247–256. doi:10.3109/09540261.2015.1049128

Oberman, L. (2008). Neurodiversity: Does ASD need treatment or does society need to accept autism as an “alternative way of being?” https://www.psychologytoday. com/us/blog/the-autism-spectrum/200807/neurodiversity- does-asd-need-treatment-or-does-society-need-accept

Openshaw, L. (2018). Social work in schools: Principles and practice. Guilford Press.

Parsons, L., Cordier, R., Munro, N., Joosten, A., Speyer, R. (2017). A systematic review of pragmatic language interventions for children with autism spectrum disorder. PLoS ONE, 12(4). pone.0172242

Payne, M. (2014). Modern social work (4th ed.). Palgrave Macmillan.

Plavnick, J., Kaid, T., & MacFarland, M. (2015). Effects of a school-based social skills training program for adolescents with autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45(9), 2674–2690. https://doi. org/10.1007/s10803-015-2434-5

Ponelis, S. R. (2015). Using interpretive qualitative case studies for exploratory research in doctoral studies: A case of information systems research in small and medium enterprises. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 10, 535–550. IJDSv10p535-550Ponelis0624.pdf

Preble, B., & Gordon, R. (2011). Transforming school climate and learning: Beyond bullying and compliance. Corwin.

Ripamonti, L. (2016). Disability, diversity, and autism: Philosophical perspectives on health. The New Bioethics, 22(1), 56–70. doi:10.1080/20502877.2016.1 151256

Robert-Domolaize. L. (2019, February 2). When your autistic child’s biggest bullies are other parents. The Washington Post. lifestyle/2019/02/01/when-your-autistic-childs-biggest- bullies-are-other-parents/

Robison, J.E. (2008). Look me in the eye. Bantam.

Robison, J. E. (2013). What is neurodiversity? what-is-neurodiversity

Rotheram-Fuller, E., Kasari, C., Chamberlain, B., & Locke, J. (2010). Social involvement of children with autism spectrum disorders in elementary school classrooms. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 51(11), 1227–1234. doi:10.1111/j.1469- 7610.2010.02289.x

Scattone, D. (2007). Social skills interventions for children with autism. Psychology in the Schools, 44(7), 717–726.

Shavrina, N. (2014). Beyond the others’ world: An essay about the experience of social work with a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome. Journal of Comparative Social Work, 9(1). view/277/212

Shearer, J., Butcher, C., & Pearce, A. (2006). Quality educational practice for students with Asperger’s syndrome. net691/f/educational-practices-students-aspergers.pdf

Shepherd, D., Landon, J., & Goedeke, S. (2017). Symptom severity, caregiver stress and intervention helpfulness assessed using ratings from parents caring for a child with autism. Autism, 22(5), 585–596. doi. org/10.1177/1362361316688869

Sheridan, M. C. (2012). A comparison of group verses individual therapy on the output of appropriate utterances in a six-year-old girl with autism: A case study. [Unpublished master’s thesis]. University of Kentucky.

Suresh, P. (2018). Global prevalence of autism: A mini-review. SciFed Journal of Autism. 2(1). http:// autism-a-mini-review/22170

Sussman, J. L. (2008). What is autism? Total Health, 30, 29–31. 10169128?accountid=43986

Terry, K. (2015). A wrinkle in the fold: Inclusion of people with autism spectrum disorders in faith communities. Social Work & Christianity, 42(4), 449–469. https://www.

Testa, D. (2011). School social work: A school-based field placement. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 23(4), 14–23.

Thanh, N. C., & Thanh, T. T. L. (2015). The interconnection between interpretivist paradigm and qualitative methods in education. American Journal of Educational Science, 1(2), 24–27. 672cf2acf8afe2ec21fd42a29b2cbd90.pdf

Thomas, C. (2012). Theorising disability and chronic illness: Where next for perspectives in medical sociology? Social Theory and Health, 10, 209–228. sth.2012.7

Ungar, M. (2002). A deeper, more social ecological social work practice. Social Service Review, 76(3), 480–497.

Vaismoradi, M.,Turunen, H., & Bondas, T. (2013). Content analysis and thematic analysis: Implications for conducting a qualitative descriptive study. Nursing & Health Sciences, 15(3), 398-405. nhs.12048

Vanbergeijk, E. O., & Shtayermman O. (2005). Asperger’s syndrome, Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 12(1), 23–37. doi:10.1300/J137v12n01_02

Young, I. M. (2003). Five faces of oppression. In L. Heldke & P. O’Connor (Eds.), Oppression, privilege, and resistance: Theoretical perspectives on racism, sexism, and heterosexism (pp. 37–64). https://www.sunypress. edu/pdf/62970.pdf



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.