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Reading of the Visual Narratives Created by Pupils Identified as Being on the Autism Spectrum A detailed account of the reasons

for choosing visual narrative as a method can be found in January's post Visual Narrative a Method for Research with Children (Including those identified as being on the Autism Spectrum). I will develop this discussion over the coming months as I analyse the rest of the data set and link this to the wider literature. From the Visual Narratives produced by the pupils on the autism spectrum, 4 main themes emerge: sensory managing emotions structure, order and routine friendship

In this next section I am going to draw examples from the data set to illustrate how these themes look in practice. Sensory I am not surprised that 'sensory' emerged as a theme in the data. Many children on the autism spectrum have deficits in sensory processing and this has been defined by Bundy et al. (2002) as 'functions related to sensation occurring in the central nervous system ; and includes reception, modulation, integration, and organisation of sensory stimuli.' Examples given by Dominic, David and Michael in their visual narratives, illustrate the realities of this in practice.

This photograph was taken by Dominic. Despite the wall display appearing to be bright and stimulating, he commented that the area was a 'mess'. For some such a display can appear to be colourful and inviting, for Dominic and others on the autism spectrum who may have difficulties processing visual information, such a display can be visually challenging. It is possible that in some cases this could lead to sensory overload (Aquila et al. 2003).

The three photographs above were extracted from a visual narrative created by David. David attends school A and is placed within the provision for pupils on the autism spectrum. In each of these photographs he communicates that he has auditory sensory challenges. The first photograph is of his mainstream class and he expresses that he finds the girls shouting in class a challenge.

David had been reluctant to go to his mainstream class around the time he produced the narrative so it provided a big clue about the reasons he did not want to go. In a follow up discussion with David, I explored further the difficulties he was experiencing with noise and along with his class teacher a number of possible solutions were generated. David himself did not manage to provide any solutions but myself and the class teacher came up with some ideas that he could choose from if he wished. He was given the option of sharing the narrative with the class when he was not there to that this girls could see the consequence of their behaviour this would have also worked well with the class teacher's goal of reducing shouting in the classroom and with the school's desire to take a restorative approach to behaviour. Another suggestion was that the teacher could discuss the impact of the shouting on him with or without him present. He decided that this was not something that he wished to take forward and would rather his information was kept private. I showed him a set of ear plugs that would enable him to take ownership of the noise levels in the class himself. This solution he was much more positive about and he decided this was something that he wanted to take forward. These ear plugs would also help him to mange the noise levels throughout the school as he showed concern throughout the school about this particular issue (see photographs 2 and 3). Managing Emotions Children who are identified as being on the autism spectrum often have difficulties understanding emotions or regulating their own emotions. A number of the children in this study took photographs of the areas they used to calm down and identified these as areas important to them in the school. This photograph was taken by Dominic in school C. He identified this area as somewhere he came to 'read and calm down and stuff.' The classroom he had identified was the main classroom of the Support Facility he attended and was an area he came to, to spend some time away from mainstream.

This photograph was taken by Paul in school A. Once again he only mentioned this was a room he came to when he had to calm down but did not elaborate on this. He also pointed out that the room was a 'mess'. Indeed the room was not the most attractive as it had been stripped of wall displays and furniture. The wall displays had been removed to reduce visual stimulation for children trying to calm down and also because the displays had been pulled down so often when children had been upset that it made no sense replacing them as they were likely to be remove again within a short time period. No furniture served two purposes, once it removed objects that some children could throw when upset and also removed the possibility of a children climbing and potentially hurting themselves during a period of upset. A further interesting observation can be drawn about Paul's narrative. I asked him if he would like to tell me about the one of the times he had to come to this room to calm down. He got very stressed when asked this question and said explicitly said 'no'. In the interviews conducted with both his teacher and mother the fact that he shut down when he had to cope with any incidents was highlighted. He found it very hard to deal with negative emotions.

Michael in school C took this photograph and in his narrative decided not to make any comment on it. I asked him why he had chosen not to make a comment on it and he said that 'it is too difficult'. He was not the only individual identified as being on the autism spectrum who found this challenging. Dominic also from school C and David and Paul from school A had similar difficulties. In follow up discussions with members of staff who work with Michael, they were not surprised that he had responded in this way as he often has difficulties expressing emotions.

Dominic said that this is where he comes to get his taxi. When asked what he liked about it he hesitated a while and studied the picture closely, before saying the plant. It was clear from the proceeding discussion that he was not able to revisit a an incident he found challenging and instead avoided revisiting this. It also highlights that he possibly lacked the emotional literacy skills required. The dialogue is as follows:

R Is there anything you dont like about this place? D I dont like being sent home by Mrs. X R Okay, what kind of things do you get sent home for? D Well only got did it last year well I did it last year R Was it just once? D Aye, the next day I came back

R Alright would you like to talk about what happened or would you rather not? D Rather not Structure, Order and Routine A number of the children identified as being on the autism spectrum focused a good portion of their discussions on school routines and rules. The most explicit of these was David who took the opportunity to discuss the routines and rules in relation to the majority of his photographs. In particular he focused his discussion of both the corridor and lunch hall on the rules that apply in those areas. He was very clear in his observation of the corridor that you were expected to walk and not run. David went onto say that he didn't like it when people run in the corridor for David this is not because they are putting themselves in danger but because they are breaking a rule. In the lunch hall his whole focus once again was on the rules. His discussion of the photograph proceeds as follows: 'This is the lunch hall. I go there at 12 O'clock or quarter past 12. What I do here is have my lunch and don't talk. What I love about it is not getting yellow cards or red cards. What I don't like about it is people getting yellow cards and red cards.' His lunch experience is dictated by rules and others following the rules. Yellow cards and red cards are issued in this school for children talking while having their lunch as there are so many children and not enough space in the dining hall to accommodate everyone and therefore time cannot be wasted talking or not everyone would manage to be served their lunch on time. Immediately in his discussion he is clear about the two things he has to do here eat his lunch and don't talk. Similar to the corridor this area is controlled by rules.

Photograph of the lunch hall taken by David.

Dominic expresses a similar need for rules to be followed by both himself and others and this seems to control his environment although this does not seem to be to the same extent as David.

T what place is this? D this is the trim track T what kind of things do you do here? D if it is nice we go outside and do stuff....if the boys and girls have been good of course is all up to the teacher but if they have not then we don't go T when do you go?

Once again it is clear from the dialogue that this place is controlled by the rules and the parameters around it seem to be significant for Dominic. A similar concern with the rules being followed also comes through in the photograph of the classroom already shown above. When asked if there was anything he didn't like about P2 he responded 'well I do not like everybody getting in a fuss.' A number of the children identified as being on the autism spectrum also seem to thrive on the consistency and content of regular school events. While not exclusive to James in school A, his discussion of the timing and content of certain places is important. It may also be one of the key reasons that James' placement at school A was successful following a placement at a school who did not have structures that were not as consistent. The lack of this consistency in his previous school was discussed by his parents in their interview. James' discussion of the lunch hall illustrates how this looks in practice.

'This is the lunch hall, we have lunch here and it is also used as the PE hall and the assembly hall. PE stands for physical education, it is like gym except you do all sorts of games in it and in the lunch hall we just eat. Assembly we have to sing, I hate singing and we have to, we get school news we don't have to do anything but we have to sing but sometimes I don't sing and sometimes we can have visitors in Assembly and in song practice we practice the songs that we sing on assembly and we don't get very much school news on song practice, assembly is where we get most of the school news and visitors and in song practice we don't get any school visitors. Song practice is on Tuesday and assembly is on Friday, today, Friday is the day that I am recording this message.'

As can be seen from the above monologue, he differentiates between the different activities that happen in the hall lunch, song practice and assembly. James is very clear about the difference between each of the activities and what is expected of him within each e.g. in assembly we don't have to do anything but we have to sing.


In the narratives alone there seems to be a lack of children discussion around people and friendships. It is possible to argue that the way the questions were set up in the narratives perhaps limited this, the children who were not on the autism spectrum at a glance through the data did discuss friendships in their narratives while those on the autism spectrum did not. Only one child on the autism spectrum identifies a friend but the way in which that friend is presented is worth exploration. The child is Darren from school C.

He said the following about this photograph:

'That's the playground. I like playing in the playground in the shelter. In the playground I play with ______ but she has moved to another school. Now I play with ______.' It seems from this dialogue that he only saw the need for one friend and interestingly that friend was female too. Similar data came through in his daily diary and as a result school staff started to watch his playground interactions more closely. Their concern was what happens when his friend is absent. Indeed when one friend moved away he replaced that friend with another friend. As a result of this data, school staff started to look at building friendships for Darren so that he would be less likely to be alone when his friends was absent. It will be interesting to see what comes out of a more detailed reading of the daily diaries with this regard as the questions there were more explicitly aimed at friendship.