Methodological challenges of researching the social worlds of children on the autism spectrum.
University of Southampton, Social Sciences,
Since the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, increased emphasis has been placed on the involvement of children in matters concerning them. In social research this has been reflected in increased participation of children in research. Children’s increased participation, particularly disabled children’s participation, has in part been encouraged by innovations, adoptions and applications in research methods. This has led to a growing number of new, ‘non-traditional’ research methods being added to the social researcher’s methodological repertoire. However, the appropriateness of different research methods remains unknown and this research aims to fill this void. By using autistic children as a case in example, the primary aim of this research is to explain why some methods are more appropriate than others to be used when researching the social worlds of autistic children. The secondary aim is to explore the experiences of autistic children. This research therefore has a dual focus in that it is concerned with research methodology and the experiences of autistic children.
The research aims were explored through an ethnographic approach to research, where six methods were used to explore the experiences of eleven autistic children aged between eleven and fifteen years. The two ‘traditional’ methods used were 1) observations of children in their school environment and 2) interviews with their parents and teachers. The four ‘non-traditional’ methods that required participation from the children required them to 1) write an essay about their imagined futures 2) take photographs of people, places and objects considered significant to them 3) reflect themselves through art and 4) to produce a documentary about their lives. The research found a number of factors to affect the appropriateness of methods. It was also found that while some methods were more appropriate than others, an understanding of the children’s experiences was best achieved through a mixed-method, multi-dimensional approach.
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