BACKGROUND : Despite inclusive education (IE) policies and legislation being introduced in South Africa (SA), learners with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are still placed in autism-specific public and private schools. Limited data are available on who makes use of the two different types of schools. Results may provide information on the profiles and education of learners with ASD in Gauteng schools. AIM : A quantitative, cross-sectional, comparative research design was used to compare the profiles of autism-specific public with autism-specific private schools and learners in Gauteng Province. SETTING : The research was conducted in two autism-specific public and two private schools. METHODS : Two survey questionnaires were used to collect data from four principals of two autism-specific public and two autism-specific private schools and 150 caregivers of learners attending the participating schools. RESULTS : Results showed that because of their size autism-specific public schools make a significant contribution to the education of learners with ASD in Gauteng, compared to autism-specific private schools. Autism-specific public schools offer more therapy services than the autism-specific private schools, despite lower fees than autism-specific private schools. Significantly more black learners attend autism-specific public schools than autism-specific private schools. Regardless of the differences in population groups across the participating schools, the mean age when caregivers became concerned about their child’s development was similar across the two types of schools. Learners enrolled at the autism-specific private schools were diagnosed with ASD earlier than learners enrolled at the autism-specific public schools. Also, they commenced school earlier than the learners in the autism-specific public schools. Lastly, three of the four principals expressed a preference that learners with ASD be placed in autism-specific schools.
CONCLUSION : The results highlight the need to raise awareness of ASD symptoms among parents with young children in all communities and to determine the barriers that hinder IE for learners with ASD in SA.