Assistance to pupils with physical disabilities in regular schools: Promoting inclusion or creating dependency?

Snaefridur Thora Egilson*, Rannveig Traustadottir

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Drawing on the perspectives of pupils with physical disabilities, their parents and teachers, this study explored the adult support provided to pupils with physical disabilities in regular schools. Data were collected through observations at schools and qualitative interviews. In all, 49 individuals participated in this study: 14 pupils with physical disabilities, 17 parents, and 18 teachers. Six themes emerged that characterised the provision of assistance: (1) roles and responsibilities; (2) quantity and content of support (3) proximity to the pupil, (4) school priorities, (5) independence and autonomy of the child; and (6) the relationship between the teacher and the assistant. An over-reliance on adult support was found for some pupils and contexts, while this support appeared to be under-utilised or ineffectively delivered in other situations. Lack of modifications of the traditional curriculum, teacher instructions, and educational activities increased the pupils' need for adult support in school. While it is acknowledged that teacher assistants can make valuable contributions in promoting participation and learning among pupils with disabilities, it is argued that the constant presence of an assistant can result in limited use of the children's strengths and may possibly create unnecessary or unhealthy dependencies. The findings signify that the education system must align with important stakeholders - the pupils, their parents, and external support services - to identify alternative ways to promote participation and learning of pupils with disabilities in regular schools.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-36
Number of pages16
JournalEuropean Journal of Special Needs Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Other keywords

  • Assistants
  • Inclusion
  • Physical disabilities
  • School
  • Support


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