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A “Visitor in the Class”: Marginalization of Students Using AAC in Mainstream Education Classes


The importance of relationships and social inclusion for students in mainstream education is recognized by scholars as well as in national and international policy. However, there is limited research on the friendships and social life of students who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) in mainstream educational systems. This study explored the views of social life among students using AAC in the Norwegian mainstream, public school. Semi-structure interviews were conducted with 7 students using AAC in first to fourth grade, 10 fellow students, 6 parents, and 18 staff. Using a constructivist grounded theory approach, three organizational and structural premises for friendship between students using AAC and fellow students were identified. Students using AAC had different and weaker extrinsic premises for developing friendship compared with fellow students in class, and results revealed that they had a visiting role towards students in the mainstream class. The schools’ educational practice violated both national and international perspectives on inclusion.

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  1. 1.

    In principle, all students in the Norwegian primary public school follow mainstream education. However, students who do not benefit from regular education can be granted special education. The organization of special education can be implemented in various ways, but all students shall be part of an inclusive fellowship.

  2. 2.

    The speech was weak, difficult to comprehend, and the verbal vocabulary was very restricted.

  3. 3.

    The first author has extensive expertise in AAC through many years of counselling related to children who use AAC from previous employment in the national service for special needs education (Statped).

  4. 4.

    The data was collected in Norwegian, but the quotes have been translated by the first author.

  5. 5.

    In Norway, children in general have access to SFO up to 4th grade (10 years), while children with special needs have access up to 7th grade (13 years).


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This manuscript is part of the first author’s doctoral dissertation. The authors have no financial gain of the article and the research is conducted without any grant.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jørn Østvik.

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Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

A written informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study on the basis of an invitation letter to participate in the study. Students received a custom written invitation. Additionally, oral information about the invitation was provided by parents. Consent from students was obtained by parents forwarding the students’ consent. The names of the participants are fictitious.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.



Table 3 Examples of initial and focused coding in category visiting fellow students

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Østvik, J., Balandin, S. & Ytterhus, B. A “Visitor in the Class”: Marginalization of Students Using AAC in Mainstream Education Classes. J Dev Phys Disabil 29, 419–441 (2017).

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  • Inclusion
  • Marginalization
  • Children
  • School
  • Friendship
  • Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC)