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Inclusive Education in Saudi Arabia


The main aim of the proposed study is to explire the inclusion of pupils with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in mainstream schools within Northern Saudi Arabia.

The study is motivated by the fact that despite the Saudi’s Ministry of Education providing special education to pupils with special needs, children with ASD have only been admitted in mainstream schools since 2002 (Aldabas, 2015). The inclusion of children and young people with special needs into mainstream education in the kingdom began in form of regular education, but was later changed into separate schools as other countries did (Al-Mousa, 2010). According to Al-Mousa (2010) this was experienced when the first special education institution, named Al-Noor Institute for the Blind was created in Riyadh in 1960 (Ministry of Education, 2002). Afterwards, several other special education schools, leading to an acceleration of the number of special education institutions and children with special education needs enrolled in those schools. In the past few years, there has not only been an increase in segregated institutions but also a number of institutions adopting the mainstreaming concepts. Importantly through, According to Alkashramy (2003), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia became the first Arab country to implement the inclusion of children with special education needs into mainstream education. Particularly, the first mainstreaming concept was witnessed in 1984 in Hafuf, situated within the western area of the Kingdom.


Therefore, the proposed study seeks to identify and comprehend the relationship between Saudi’s traditional approach to education and its application of the concept of mainstreaming. The study’s main focus is North Saudi Arabia and the extent to which children with ASD in that area experience inclusive education in mainstream schools. Furthermore, the proposed study deems that because inclusive education was recently introduced in Saudi Arabia (Aldabas, 2015), little is known about the children’s experience of inclusive education, and therefore it is felt necessary to explore how the children and young people with special education needs are experiencing mainstream education.

The prevalence of ASD is known and understood globally. As a developmental disorder, ASD is more common in males than in females (Roberts and Simpson, 2016). Earlier statistical reports estimate that ASD occurs in a ratio of 3:1 males to females globally (Werling and Geschwind 2013, Newschaffer et al 2007 and Lathe, 2006). Other global statistics by Elsabbagh et al (2012) show that in a group of 10,000 people, ASD was identified in 62 people. However, even though ASD presents within a range of moderate to high severity levels, it is a lifelong condition that affects the individual’s communication abilities as well as social and interpersonal capabilities (Almasoud, 2010). This shows that ASD may be more prevalent in male children and young people than females, creating a gender discourse within the mainstreaming concept. Another American-based study by Leblance et al (2009) identified that the prevalence of ASD significantly decreased between the 1990s and 2000, with no empirical evidence on the reasons for decline. However, more recent studies indicate that while ASD prevalence dramatically increased in the 1980s onwards, this upsurge is most likely attributable to changes in the practice of diagnosis as opposed to the emergence of more cases of ASD (Newschaffer et al, 2007).

A review of literature reveals no established prevalence rates of ASD in Saudi Arabia over-time. In a study by Yazbak (2004), it was found that 42,500 Saudi Arabians had been diagnosed with ASD in 2002, with more people remaining undiagnosed. A later study by Al-Zahrani (2007), reports indicated that the prevalence of ASD in Saudi Arabia was at 0.031% for males and 0.004% for females. Despite the lack of consensus on the prevalence rate, these pieces of evidence indicate that ASD at least exists in the Saudi Arabia.

However, scientists have still not figured out the exact cause of ASD, or why two children cannot display similar symptoms. Nonetheless, earlier scientific explorations by Wing (1993) indicate that children with ASD experience difficulties in three main areas, namely communication, social interaction, repetitive behaviour and limited interest.

According to Almasoud (2010), the presentation of ASD occurs in many different ways that make sit notoriously difficult to diagnose. Similarly, Brown (2005) observes that the presentation of ASD does not occur in any exact condition and this can contribute to misdiagnosis and mismanagement of education provided to children with the disorder. Thus, there is a monumental need for exploration into whether the mainstream education system in North Saudi Arabia is effectively dealing with the problem.

A comparison of inclusive education between Saudi Arabia and other developed countries such as the UK indicates significant differences and development gaps that must be addressed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). For instance, the UK has more developed legislation on inclusive education as well as on the needs of children with special education needs such as those with autism spectrum disorder. The Children and Family Act 2014, obligates local authorities to ensure that education services are adapted in favour of children with special education needs. Particularly the Act requires that children and young of 25 years or below people with special education needs must be identified. Upon identifying them, according to the Children and Family Act 2014, a needs assessment should be conducted on their psychological, health and educational needs, before adapting the health and education services delivery to their needs. Furthermore, the UK’s Children and Family Act 2014 stipulates that the local authorities should coordinate with the children and young people’s parents to develop an offer of health and education services within their respective localities.

Interestingly, the Children and Family Act 2014 addresses the issue of inclusion of disabled children into mainstream education by providing an option for whether the parents want to take their children to special schools or mainstream schools. Particularly, the Act stipulates that if parents want to take their children to mainstream colleges or schools, the school or college must be suitable for the student’s age, aptitude, special education needs and abilities. Furthermore, the Act requires that the children must be placed in colleges or schools that provide efficient and compatible education for all, including the children with whom they will learn together.

However, a closer evaluation of inclusive education in KSA reveals certain inclusivity gaps that still need to be addressed. Several critical areas necessitate policy change to ensure that RSA embraces inclusive education to the levels that the UK or other developed countries do. For instance, Aldabas (2015) acknowledges that KSA still has poor laws for considering a child’s eligibility for special education services. While the main enabler for development of inclusive education policy is legislation (Cushing et al 2005), there are a few laws enacted to ensure that there are adequate educators in the special education sector, guarantee the rights for children with special education needs and to enhance the quality of services delivered to people with special education needs.

The Saudi Arabia’s Rules and Regulations of Special Education (RRSEP) was developed in 2001 to protect the rights and privileges of children and young people with special education needs and identified children with ASD as part of the population that have special education needs (Ministry of Education of Saudi Arabia 2002). However, according to Aldabas (2015), the RRSEP has had little success with regards to its effectiveness in enhancing inclusivity for different reasons: First, according to Aldabas (2015), Saudi Arabia has faced a long-term lack of diagnostic experts and professionals and inadequate tools for assessing and determining children and young people with special education needs. With the lack of special education needs assessment tools, it is difficult to identify the best educational settings and environments that meet the educational needs of children and young people with disabilities. Nonetheless, according to Aldabas (2015), RRSEP has made a significant contribution to the administration and provision of special education services in KSA, a typical example being the availability of different placement options of children with special needs education availability of transport and recreational activities for special needs children.

Inclusive education requires the development of policy frameworks that facilitate the early identification of children with special education needs, and the implementation of interventions to ensure that the children receive quality education (Proctor & Niemeyer 2001). However, the KSA still lacks adequate laws, regulations and policies that facilitate the early identification of children with special education needs. This is considered a significant policy gap that prevents the effective identification of the necessary modalities needed to promote inclusive education. KSA should engage in policy developments that encourage early identification of children and young people with special education needs.

Observations by Resch et al (2010) indicate that parent involvement is a significant element in the provision of inclusive education. Parents play a central role in the development of their children and therefore parents need to be involved in developing various learning modalities for the children and young people with special education needs. They contribute to the general acceptance of the children’s learning disability status by developing an environment that enhances the interaction between the disabled and non-disabled children (Worcester et al 2008). This implies that inclusive education policy developments in KSA should target parental involvement. This would ensure that the learning disability children’s unique needs will be addressed, contributing to the children’s educational success. Parents should be encouraged to take part in the development of their disabled children’s learning planning by inviting them to take part in their children’s education.


According to Jha, (2010) the term ‘inclusion’ was discuss during the Jomtien Conference about Education that influenced the concept of inclusive education for all across the world under the auspices of the Salamanca Statement. While Saudi Arabia was not part of the concession, the statement has had a significant influence on the Kingdom’s education policies particularly with regards to its decree over the inclusion of children with special education needs as an educational aim that governments must adopt have (Jha, 2010).

Fundamentally, the Salamanca Statement is considered to be the origin of inclusive education, whereby pupils with special education needs are included in the mainstream classroom alongside their counterparts with no special education needs (Almasoud, 2010). Watkins et al (2015) observe that the adoption of the Salamanca statement has been an important development because it facilitates the change from the inclusion of children with special education needs to full integration of children with special education needs into mainstream schools.

Study Rationale

The choice of ASD as the main focus of the proposed study is due to a paucity of research exploring the experience of ASD in Saudi Arabia compared to other disabilities (Jha, 2010). Besides, from practical experience that despite children with other disabilities largely included in mainstream schools, children with autism have a smaller representation in those schools, partly due to poor policy and systems to enhance inclusion. In the recent past, Saudi’s society has had different understanding of inclusion. For instance, According to the Saudi Gazette (2014), people would actively ignore individuals with ASD based on the belief that the condition is contagious. Furthermore, a study by Alqahtani (2012) reported that Saudi parents to children with ASD believe that their children’s conditions are caused by medical treatments such as vaccines or emanate from supernatural causes such as black magic.

Research Gap

A comprehensive review of the literature reveals that there is a dearth of research on how pupils with ASD are included in Saudi’s mainstream education. Despite the availability of such studies in other demographic areas such as the UK (for example, Cai and Richdale, 2016), the outcome of such studies may not be applicable in Saudi Arabia due to various social and cultural differences between the two societies. Researchers such as Al-Abudulwahab (2002), Abduljabber (1994) and Al-jadid (2013) have attempted to explore educators’ attitudes towards inclusive education in Saudi Arabia. However, as Peer & Reid (2016) observes, there is a shortage of studies that attempt to evaluate how inclusive education for pupils with ASD has been implemented in Saudi Arabia. Besides, Cai and Richdale (2016) asserts that there is a dearth of data on how pupils with ASD access mainstream education and who they come into contact with to receive a quality education. Therefore, the proposed study seeks to address this research gap by evaluating the extent to which pupils with ASD in North Saudi Arabia are included in mainstream education.



To explore how pupils with ASD in North Saudi Arabia are included in, and experience mainstream education

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Research Objectives

To identify ways in which pupils with ASD in North Saudi Arabia are included in mainstream education

To explore the perspectives and attitudes of educators towards inclusive education for pupils with ASD

To explore the key success factors for implementing inclusive education for pupils with ASD in North Saudi Arabia

To explore the perspective of parents teachers on how inclusion can be improved when children are included in mainstream education.

Research Questions

What are the key success factors for implementing inclusive education for pupils with ASD in North Saudi Arabia?

How are pupils with ASD in North Saudi Arabia included in mainstream education?

What are the attitudes and perspectives of educators towards inclusive education for pupils with ASD?


Aldabas, R.A., (2015), ‘Special Education in Saudi Arabia: History and Areas for Reform,’ Creative Education 6, pp. 1158-1167.

Almasoud, H., (2011). Enhancing public services for individuals with Autism in Saudi Arabia: World Autism Awareness Day, Riyadh: Kind Saud University.

Alqahtani, M.M.J., (2012), ‘Understanding Autism in Saudi Arabia: A Qualitative Analysis of the Community and Cultural Context,’ Journal of Paediatric Neurology, 10 (1), pp. 15-22.

Al-Gain, S.I., and Al-Abudulwahab, S.S., (2002), ‘Issues and Obstacles in Disability Research in Saudi Arabia,’ Asia Pacific Disability Rehabilitation Journal 13, pp. 45-49.

Al-Abduljabber, A.M., (1994), Administrators’ and Teachers’ Perceptions of Inclusive Schooling in Saudi Arabia (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.

Al-Jadid, M.S., (2013), ‘Disability in Saudi Arabia,’ Saudi Medical Journal, 34 (5), pp. 453-460.

Al-Zahrani, A. Prevalence and clinical characteristics of autism spectrum disorders in school-age children in

Taif-KSA. Int. J. Med. Sci. Public Health 2013, 2, 578–582.

Bowler, D., (2007), Autistic Spectrum Disorders: Psychological Theory and Research, Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

Brown, R.C., (2005), ‘Inclusive education in Middle Eastern cultures’ in C. Mitchell, ed., Contextualising inclusive education: Evaluating old and new international perspectives, Abingdon: Routledge.

Cai, R. Y., & Richdale, A. L. (2016). Educational experiences and needs of higher education students with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 46(1), 31-41.

Cushing, L. S., Clark, N. M., Carter, E. W., & Kennedy, C. H. (2005). Access to the General Education Curriculum for Students

with Significant Cognitive Disabilities. Teaching Exceptional Children, 38, 6-13.

Elsabbagh, M., Divan, G., and Yun-Joo Koh, Y.J., (2012), ‘Global Prevalence of Autism and Other Pervasive Developmental Disorders,’ Autism Research 5 (3), pp. 160-179.

Florian, L., Black-Hawkins, K., and Rouse, M., (2017), Achievement and Inclusion in Schools, 2nd Ed., Abingdon: Routledge.

Jha, M.M., (2010), From Special to Inclusive Education in India: Case Study of Three Schools in Delhi, New Delhi: Dorling Kingsley.

Leblance, L., Richardson, W., and Burns, K.A., (2009), ‘Autism spectrum disorder and the inclusive classroom: Effective training to enhance knowledge of autism and evidence-based practices’, Teacher Education and Special Education: The Journal of the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children 32: 166.

Resch, J. A., Mireles, G., Benz, M. R., Grenwelge, C., Peterson, R., & Zhang, D. (2010). Giving Parents a Voice: A Qualitative

Newschaffer, C.J., Croen, L.A., and Daniels, J., (2007), ‘The Epidemiology of Autism Spectrum Disorders,’ Annual Review of Public Health, 28, pp. 235-258.

Pellicano, L., Bolte, S., & Stahmer, A. (2018). The current illusion of educational inclusion. Autism, 22(4), 386-387.

Peer, L., & Reid, G. (Eds.). (2016). Special educational needs: A guide for inclusive practice. Sage.

Roberts, J., & Simpson, K. (2016). A review of research into stakeholder perspectives on inclusion of students with autism in mainstream schools. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 20(10), 1084-1096.

Werling, D.M., and Geschwind, D.H., (2013), ‘Sex Differences in Autism Spectrum Disorders,’ Current Opinion in Neurology, 26 (2), pp. 146-153.

Wing, L., (1993), ‘The Definition and Prevalence of Autism: A Review,’ European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 2 (2), pp. 61-74.

Watkins, L., O’Reilly, M., Kuhn, M., Gevarter, C., Lancioni, G. E., Sigafoos, J., & Lang, R. (2015). A review of peer-mediated social interaction interventions for students with autism in inclusive settings. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 45(4), 1070-1083.

Yazbak, F.E. Autism seems to be increasing worldwide, if not in London. BMJ 2004, 328, 226–227.

Worcester, J. A., Nesman, T. M., Raffaele Mendez, L., M., & Keller, H. R. (2008). Giving Voice to Parents of Young Children

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