Using Technology to support the Education of Children with Autism Spectrum Conditions

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: School of Education


Autism has traditionally been defined in terms of a 'triad of impairments' (Wing 1988),
these impairments, or deviances from typical developmental trajectories, are said to
affect three main areas: flexibility of thought and behaviour, understanding of social
behaviours, and communication. In real terms, this means that people who have autism
spectrum conditions (ASCs) often require adapted educational environments, due to
their preference for fixed routines, and their requirement for additional support in
learning social cues, behaviours, and effective communication strategies. Due to the
increased political pressure for fully inclusive education systems since the mid-90s and
increasing number of ASC diagnoses, children with ASC are increasingly educated
within mainstream educational settings. Given the flexibility and ever-increasing
capabilities of modern technology, it seems likely that it may be a useful tool to alleviate
some of conflicts arising between the needs of children with ASC and the demands
placed on them within mainstream educational settings. However, while many papers
exploring the efficacy of particular technology-based interventions exist, there has been
little work to how it is currently used to facilitate education in real-world settings. This
project therefore aims to study the use of technology that facilitates inclusion by
supporting everyday transitions, it will both look at actual practise and its potential
usage both in a mainstream and a home-education context.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000673/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
2122749 Studentship ES/P000673/1 30/09/2018 31/12/2022 Verity Ward
Description This PhD project has been undertaken through two studies, the first study investigated the experiences of autistic students who took part in a collaborative technology design project. During this project they designed and developed a computer game from scratch. Their experiences highlighted the benefits of collaborative design methods for the participants, including providing opportunities to recognise and develop their own strengths, and to recognise and value the strengths and contributions of others. The research also showed the value of video-based methods (Digital Stories) as a way for students to document and express their experiences.
The second study also drew on the Digital Story methodology, to develop a series of digital resources to support students as they transitioned back from the summer holidays (in 2021) into a new school building which had just been opened. This study has shown the strengths of Digital Stories as a tool for engaging students in school, and enabling them to express and capture their views about what is important in school.
Exploitation Route The outcomes of this research might influence the way autistic children and young people are engaged in collaborative design activities, pushing people to let them contribute more flexibly, in ways which suit them, and which work to their individual interests and strengths.
We hope that the outcomes will promote the use of the Digital Story methodology as a means of accessing students views and experiences, and that this technique may be adopted by more schools and researchers who wish to listen to the voices of the children and young people they work with. The digital resources developed with Fairmead School will continue to be updated and used by the school to support yearly transitions into and around the school.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education

Description The collaboration with Fairmead School has enabled them to offer coding as an enrichment activity for their key stage 3 and 4 students, and has influenced their curriculum planning. They are starting to embrace more creative, and less traditional methods of knowledge communication from their students which allows their students to take more agency over their own work and contribute to learning in their own ways.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Education
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Coding as part of the curriculum
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Contribution to new or Improved professional practice
Impact The establishment of coding enrichment sessions as part of my research has given staff opportunities to learn coding skills alongside the students. This has meant that they have been able to support students in work undertaken during these sessions, and extend their own professional practice and experience with coding.
Description Virtual Tour for Fairmead
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Contribution to new or Improved professional practice
Impact Fairmead School have benefitted from the up-skilling of their staff who are now able to further develop and manage the virtual tour. Current and prospective students have also benefitted from having access to the virtual tour, which has now been accessed over 800 times. Early findings suggest that having access to Digital Stories about the school can help to reduce worry and anxiety about starting at a new school or returning to school after the summer holidays.
Description Festival of Social Science Event Budget
Amount £400 (GBP)
Funding ID ES/T502029/1 
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2021 
End 11/2021
Description Festival of Social Science event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact On Friday 5th November, ACoRNS held our fourth event for the annual Festival of Social Science. This year, the event was lead by iPhD student, Verity Ward. Her work explores the opportunities that research can provide for autistic, and otherwise neurodivergent, students to participate in school. She presented ongoing work from two studies where students from Fairmead School in Somerset collaboratively designed computer games, and made videos.

The event consisted of two parts: a public webinar, and an in person showcase of the work in school. The webinar featured a short introduction to ACoRNS by Sarah Parsons, followed by a presentation about Verity's research and the ongoing partnership with Fairmead School. Ben Crump, Assistant Headteacher at Fairmead School, spoke about the benefits and opportunities that engaging with the research had provided for the school.

After the webinar, the key stage four students at Fairmead School were given the opportunity to engage with three rooms showcasing work competed during the two studies. The first room featured the computer game created by the students, the second showed videos made about the process of designing and developing the game. Finally, the third room displayed the virtual tour created from the videos students made in the second project. Students from each of the projects volunteered to staff the rooms, answering questions about the work on display and supporting others with the interactive elements.

At the end of the school day, the three rooms were opened to external guests, including school governors, EPs and parents of students who had taken part in the research. Overall the day was a great success, and we would like to thank Fairmead School for hosting and ESRC for supporting the event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021