Investigating sharing skills in children with autism spectrum conditions through participatory research

  • Rachel Menzies

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    For most children, appropriate social skills and behaviours can be learned through observation and imitation of adult behaviour in social environments (Bandura and Walters 1963; Rheingold, Hay et al. 1976). The importance of social and communication skills have long been emphasised as the basis of learning by all children (Piaget 1962; Scottish-Executive 2004). One of these skills, sharing, is a “prosocial skill associated with the development of positive social relationships” (DeQuinzio, Townsend et al. 2008).
    Affecting more than 500,000 people in the UK (National Autistic Society 2007), Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) are a collection of developmental disorders of varying severity, with behavioural manifestations changing with the severity of the disorder and age of a particular individual. ASC includes established difficulties in social interaction, social communication and a rigidity of behaviour and thought (Wing and Gould 1979; Pimley and Bowen 2006).
    Sharing skills are an area of difficulty in Autism Spectrum Conditions, currently addressed by teachers within the educational setting. However, thus far few projects have been designed to promote the generalisation of these social skills. In addition, work in this area is typically with higher-functioning individuals with Asperger Syndrome or educated in a mainstream schooling environment. Limited work has been conducted with lower functioning individuals with additional learning disabilities. There is also a lack of interventions that have been designed using a user-centred participatory research approach.
    In order to address this need, a computer system has been developed to support children with Autism Spectrum Conditions in the acquisition of sharing skills, and provide opportunities for the subsequent generalisation of these behaviours. The research involved devising ways to involve stakeholders in the design and development of the system. An evaluation of the final prototype was carried out in a special-educational location with a group of low-functioning children with Autism Spectrum Conditions.
    The results suggest that technology can be a useful vehicle to allow opportunities for children with Autism Spectrum Conditions to develop their sharing and social interaction skills. Use of the sharing tool shows some improvement in the participants as well as some transfer of knowledge and skills into different situations. This indicates that the involvement of practitioners and children, both with and without Autism Spectrum Conditions, in the design process has resulted in the development of a useful technology system with possible future applications in the education setting.
    Date of Award2012
    Original languageEnglish
    SponsorsEconomic and Social Research Council, UK
    SupervisorAnnalu Waller (Supervisor) & Helen Pain (Supervisor)

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