Exploring the multimodal communication and agency of children in an autism classroom.

DOAK, Lauran (2018). Exploring the multimodal communication and agency of children in an autism classroom. Doctoral, Sheffield Hallam University.

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Link to published version:: https://doi.org/10.7190/shu-thesis-00125


This study explores the communication and agency of five children between 6-8 years old attending a special school in England. The children have all received a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder and demonstrate limited or no verbal speech. The study analyses how the children communicate with staff and peers in the classroom, how the diverse communicative contexts arising from the school day shape their communicative behaviours, and the nature of the relationship between their communication opportunities and the agency they exercise in the classroom. The study draws on a wide range of data including classroom video recordings, fieldnotes, the author’s reflexive research journal, interviews with classroom staff and with the children’s parents and the collection of photographs and documents. It adopts a hybridized methodological framework drawing upon ethnography of communication, Conversation Analysis and Multimodal Interaction Analysis. This framework is used to enable fine-grained analysis of communication and to subsequently locate such microanalysis within a broader ethnographic context. The children in this study communicate using a range of strategies including the use of Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS®) and Makaton® signing, embodied communication and Intensive Interaction. Some individual variation between children is noted in terms of their preferred modes, speech topics, functions and interactional partners. Communication mediated by Makaton and PECS is often associated with requesting objects or help from adults as well as social convention such as please and thank-you, and appears to be outstripped in range and complexity by the children’s embodied multimodal communication. Some forms of communication are found to be highly associated with certain classroom communicative contexts. Whilst all the children show at least some orientation towards peer interaction, the nature of a specialist setting with high staff to student ratios, small classes, an absence of non-disabled peers and AAC provision which orients towards object requesting together tend to mitigate against interactions with other children. Implications arising from the study include the need to think critically about facilitating peer interaction in specialist settings, to reflect on how and why some vocabulary and speech functions are provided with PECS and Makaton to the exclusion of others, and to consider the very complex relationships between classroom activities, vocabulary, mode, speech function and interactional partners. It is suggested that the concept of childhood ‘agency’ might support practitioners and policy makers in reflecting on how communication support for disabled children might enhance their lives both present and future.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Thesis advisor - Burnett, Cathy [0000-0001-6087-244X]
Additional Information: Director of studies: Cathy Burnett
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-00125
Depositing User: Colin Knott
Date Deposited: 12 Feb 2019 11:01
Last Modified: 03 May 2023 02:04
URI: https://shura.shu.ac.uk/id/eprint/24008

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