About the project

Young children with autism are amongst the most scrutinised and assessed in their everyday lives, often leading to characterisations and descriptions that focus on their difficulties (commonly termed ‘deficits’) and challenges rather than on their abilities, strengths and positive experiences. Consequently, much discussion about children with autism tends to forget that they are children first. While research has considered the transitions of children with autism from primary to secondary school, and from secondary to post-compulsory contexts, there is almost no research focusing on transitions for young children with autism from nursery to primary schools. There is also very limited representation of their voices and experiences being explored, promoted, and valued directly as evidence in their own right. 

Members of the Autism Community Research Network @ Southampton [ACoRNS: http://acornsnetwork.org.uk] are delighted to have been awarded £35,000 from the Froebel Trust for a project focusing on ‘The voices and experiences of children with autism, and their families, in their transitions from nursery to primary school’, which aims to address these gaps in the research. The project started on March 1st 2018 and involves children, families, and staff members at the Aviary Nursery in Eastleigh.

This project runs until the end of November 2018, and will include 4-6 autistic children, their parents, and school staff. The project will capture, through digital storytelling, the experiences and perspectives of these children, and their families, as the children prepare to make the transition from nursery to primary school. Young children with autism may not be able to express or communicate their views in typical ways and so, rightly, the onus is placed on us as researchers and practitioners to find ways to reveal authentic insights into their experiences and capabilities. Digital storytelling is an inclusive approach because it does not prioritise or constrain particular means of expression i.e. it does not rely on primarily written or spoken forms.

The use of digital stories as a method draws upon previous work funded by the ESRC focusing on the development of digital stories to provide insights into the experiences, contexts, and culture of learning experiences for children with autism. Digital storytelling is developed from the ideas of Lambert who argues that digital stories are natural vehicles for understanding and reflection and for creating meaning, as well as enabling voice, agency and a sense of belonging. We think that digital stories will be a very powerful methodological approach for understanding the experiences and practices of nursery to primary school transition from the perspectives of young children with autism.

Children’s voices and views are, therefore, at the centre of the research through highlighting their unique trajectories via individual digital stories. The stories will illustrate both the positive experiences and the challenges that children and their families face as well as model how these challenges are mitigated by school-based processes. The digital stories are important in terms of their co-creation with teachers and families, giving validation and voice to diverse experiences and views. The stories will also be used in a novel way as a tool for facilitating the transition by introducing the primary school to the child as a child, rather than as a paper-based description of needs and difficulties.

About Us

The project is led by Professor Sarah Parsons and Dr Hanna Kovshoff at the University of Southampton, working in partnership with ACoRNS founding members Kathryn Ivil and Gareth Shaw from Aviary Nursery. The ACoRNS team are joined by Dr Efstathia Karakosta from Southampton Education School.

Aviary Nursery is a fully inclusive nursery school in Eastleigh that prioritises children’s play, interests, friendships, and different ways of communicating and interacting with each other.