Understanding how autistic pupils experience secondary school: autism criteria, theory and FAMe™

LEATHERLAND, Julia (2018). Understanding how autistic pupils experience secondary school: autism criteria, theory and FAMe™. Doctoral, Sheffield Hallam University.

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Link to published version:: https://doi.org/10.7190/shu-thesis-00101


Many autistic pupils experience difficulties associated with a mis-match between the explicit features of autism and the physical and psychosocial environment of secondary school, which leave them particularly vulnerable to a range of negative mental health outcomes, and which can create barriers to their academic success (Charman et al., 2011; Morewood, Humphrey and Symes, 2011). This situation is understood to be compounded by a lack of teacher training and understanding of autism in general, and of its specific impact on individual pupil’s learning styles and support needs (Falkmer, Parsons and Granlund, 2012; Reed, Osborne and Waddington, 2012; Hebron and Humphrey, 2014). This project sought to investigate (1) the extent to which existing descriptions of autism were reflected in the general school experiences of a cohort of autistic pupils, and (2) the impact of a new pupil-to-teacher communication system, designed by the author, on the classroom experiences and psychological well-being of these pupils. Situated within the paradigm of pragmatism, a mixed methods approach to this research project was adopted. Twenty-one autistic pupils shared their experiences of school during semi-structured interviews, whilst their teachers’ experiences of teaching them were elicited via online surveys. Thematic analysis, using a specifically designed coding manual, was used to investigate the capacity of the diagnostic criteria descriptors and definitions of autism, and selected cognitive autism theories, to explain both the general school experiences described by autistic pupils, and the specific areas of difficulty they prioritised for additional support and/or teacher practice change. The efficacy of a new register-based pupil-to-teacher communication system (FAMe™), was evaluated using pre- and post-system implementation interviews and pupil self-report scales. The design of this project positioned participating pupils as experts in their own experiences, whilst the FAMe™ System enabled their voices to influence matters that affected them. The methods used, to facilitate engagement with and collect data from autistic pupils, have the potential to be considered a ‘model example’ for carrying out future research in this field. Analysis evidenced the limited capacity of the diagnostic criteria and autism theory to inform understanding of the pupils’ collective experiences. Positive impact of the FAMe™ System on pupils’ classroom experiences and psychological well-being was demonstrated. Teachers reported improved confidence post-FAMe™ in their ability to teach autistic pupils, and to meet their pupils' self-reported classroom and/or learning support needs. Improved educational outcomes were also reported. Findings contribute knowledge to the under-researched area of autistic pupils’ lived experience. The apparent failure of current diagnostic criteria descriptors and definitions of autism to adequately reflect pupils’ experiences led to the development of a new bio-psychosocial definition of autism. This has since been adopted by colleagues teaching students of autism (Beardon, 2017b) and by those engaged in independent autism research. If the demonstrated positive effect of FAMe™ System use, on teacher’s autism-related practice and on pupil educational outcomes, is replicable in other schools, the impact of its continued implementation, for autistic individuals and wider society, could be significant.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Thesis advisor - Beardon, Luke [0000-0002-7487-3723]
Additional Information: Director of Studies: Dr Luke Beardon
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Sheffield Hallam Doctoral Theses
Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.7190/shu-thesis-00101
Depositing User: Justine Gavin
Date Deposited: 06 Nov 2018 16:01
Last Modified: 03 May 2023 02:04
URI: https://shura.shu.ac.uk/id/eprint/23231

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