Enhancing Participation and Social Cognitive Development for Children with ASD: Adopting a Mediated Systematic Social Communication & Interaction Model

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The inclusion of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) into
regular primary schools has increased in recent years. Children with ASD may
find the social aspects of learning in regular classrooms particularly challenging
because a large part of learning is conducted through social interaction. In
addition, what can be particularly demanding for teachers is the management of
interactive learning and teaching for children with ASD and peers.
The study comprises twelve young children from three different regions
of Hong Kong. The children’s social communications and interaction
developments are explored from multiple perspectives. These children attend
regular schools in the international education system.
A combination of Vygotsky’s cultural historical theory and
Bronfenbrenner’s personal instigative characteristics model formulates the
study’s conceptual framework. Vygotsky’s theory is used as an approach and
assists in the development of a model for social communication and interaction
for use with children with ASD. Bronfenbrenner’s theory is used to expose the
children’s personal instigative characteristics within their home and school
environments. Instigative characteristics are explored through the experimental
activity model.
Using a partial mixed-methods approach, the study investigates social
communication and interaction development and the use of a Social
Communication and Interaction (SCI) model with twelve children with ASD.
The SCI model employs mediation to encourage the children to be engaged in
high-level participation activities.
Data sources for social communication and interaction development
include parent interviews, questionnaires, teacher discussions, and pictures
drawn by the children. In addition, video is taken of the children in both
structured and unstructured settings and in ten experimental activity sessions.
Parents complete the Social Communication Questionnaire and a background
information questionnaire designed for this study. These multiple sources of
data provide rich material on the qualitative changes that have affected the
children’s social communication and interaction and from their participation in
the model.
Using a seven-step process and a thematic approach for data analysis,
multiple themes emerge. The themes are used to form a picture of social
communication and interaction development, from which cultural and historical
issues that potentially affect the children’s social communication and interaction
are explored.
The findings indicate the children participate differently at home, school
and in the experimental activity sessions. In home and school situations, the
children do not naturally take advantage of opportunities for social
communication and interaction with peers. Findings from implementing the SCI
model, however, indicate that the children gradually become motivated to engage
with each other in the experimental activity sessions and are increasingly
involved in problem-solving. The children develop their use of language for
self-regulation and collaboration in their small groups as the weeks progress.
Data taken after the experimental period indicates that the children make more
frequent interactions with peers and family members. Attention is drawn
towards the children’s growth of self-confidence and a reduction of adult support.
The study contributes an understanding of context, opportunity and
participation and the importance of these three areas for social communication
and interaction development for children with ASD. A model for teachers to
address whole person development that is inclusive of the learning community is
offered. In addition, the use of the model provides insight into the children’s
qualitative differences of social communication and interaction at home and
school. Through employing the SCI model and careful adult mediation, the
children develop a sense of themselves as social communicators, however, adult
mediation emerges as an important role that carefully and systematically
scaffolds social communication and interaction for, and with, the children.
There are a number of implications that arise from the study. These
include the provision of better support for families in the early years, particularly
for multi-disciplinary educational placements for pre-school children;
improvements to initial assessment and diagnosis procedures in Hong Kong, for
example, better professional training to support families during this crucial time;
enhancing professional understanding of social communication and interaction
development, especially for early years educators; constructing shared meaning
for learning with children with ASD and peers alike in regular schools and
improving public awareness of people with a disability
Date of Award18 Nov 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Hong Kong Institute of Education
SupervisorChristine Forlin (Supervisor), Dennis Mc Innerney (Supervisor) & Rupert Maclean (Supervisor)

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