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Autism, Intense Interests and Support in School: From Wasted Efforts to Shared Understandings

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalEDUCATIONAL REVIEW
Early online date19 Feb 2019
DOIs
Accepted/In press27 Dec 2018
E-pub ahead of print19 Feb 2019

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Abstract

Having intense or “special” interests and a tendency to focus in depth to the exclusion of other inputs, is associated with autistic cognition, sometimes framed as “monotropism”. Despite some drawbacks and negative associations with unwanted repetition, this disposition is linked to a range of educational and longer-term benefits for autistic children. Meanwhile however, and notwithstanding efforts on the part of school staff to provide support, the inclusion of autistic children in the school curriculum and additional activities is poor. Therefore, in this article, by employing empirical examples from a case study based in five mainstream primary schools in England, and elucidated via thematic analysis, I consider the role and functions of the strong interests of the 10 autistic children who participated, incorporating the views of school staff (n = 36), parents (n = 10) and a sample of autistic adults (n = 10). I delineate how the school staff responded to the intense interests of the autistic children and argue how accepting this cognitive trait can be related to a range of educational, social and affective advantages for the children, as well as less effortful, more empathetic and skilled support on the part of school staff, including a reduction in prompting and task repetition. Furthermore, by suggesting comparisons with the interests and motivations of all children in school, I posit that autistic children in particular, and all children in general, might gain from a deeper cognisance of this trait, which could therefore be incorporated profitably into curricular and pedagogical practices.

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