Between withdrawal and resistance: parents strategies in navigating preschool education in Russia for children with developmental disabilities and autism

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Kazan State Medical University


Purpose: This paper aims to fill the gap in social sciences research on parents’ strategies in navigating preschool education in Russia. It focusses on the barriers that children with developmental disabilities and autism face in preschool education in Russia and highlights the emerging facilitators of inclusive education.

Design/methodology/approach: It uses a modified labelling approach analysing strategies of withdrawal and resistance. The research included semi-structured interviews with parents of children with Down syndrome, Rett syndrome and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in 2013–2014 and 2018–2019 and semi-structured interviews with professionals in Tatarstan, Russia. The data analysis was based on constructivist methods and grounded theory.

Findings: Although Russian law guarantees equal access to education for every child and requires the development of inclusive education, children with developmental disabilities, including autism, are often stigmatised at the preschool stage, both in special needs and mainstream institutions. Parents use various strategies to navigate access to preschool education and try more than one strategy from secrecy and withdrawal to resistance. Parents challenged the mainstream educational structures in Kazan and established groups for children with autism in some mainstream kindergartens and classes in mainstream schools.

Research limitations/implications: There should be informational support for parents with different options for special needs education, providing integrative and inclusive education. It is necessary to increase the number of trained specialists in special needs and mainstream kindergartens in Russia for children with developmental disabilities and ASD. More study is required to overcome stigmatisation and increase tolerance towards persons with developmental disabilities in Russia both on a national and local level.

Practical implications: The research findings can be useful for countries which have recently recognised ASD and do not have inclusive preschool educational practices and where labelling towards children with developmental disabilities is still common. The study recommends that resources are required to provide free or affordable preschool education for children with developmental disabilities. It is also crucial to help parents navigate preschool education and select the best options for each child’s needs.

Social implications: This study’s findings add value to the importance of addressing the stigma towards people with disabilities within professional groups and broader society, which form barriers for preschool education and in some cases result in withdrawal from preschool education. To overcome the stigmatisation of children with developmental disabilities in preschool education, it is necessary to establish modern targeted pedagogical approaches and training for professionals and informational campaigns for the broader audience.

Originality/value: The paper is novel as there was no sociological research into preschool education of children with developmental disabilities in Russia. It argues that the parents’ experiences are much broader than just interactions with special needs or mainstream education. Parents navigate across special needs institutions, specialised groups in mainstream and private kindergartens, mixed groups in mainstream kindergartens and home education with various strategies from secrecy and withdrawal to resistance and challenge. Preschool education for children with developmental disabilities in Russia is hindered by a lack of professional resources and the stigma embedded into professional and societal responses.


Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Children’s Services
Early online date9 Jul 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Jul 2021


  • autism, parents, developmental disabilities, preschool education, Inclusive education, special needs education, Russia, stigma

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