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Title: Creating a functional play framework for children with autism and severe learning difficulties
Author: Kuegel, Christina
ISNI:       0000 0004 7229 8328
Awarding Body: University of Bedfordshire
Current Institution: University of Bedfordshire
Date of Award: 2017
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Play is an important contributor to children’s development: it reflects, reinforces, and results in development (Johnson, Christie, Wardle, 2005). However, the tools available to support planning and measurement of play are not sufficiently detailed or focused on children with autism and severe learning difficulties (SLD). Play for children with autism is consistently identified as restrictive and repetitive. Although extensive research examines symbolic play, the content and structure of functional play, which is considered a valuable precursor of symbolic play, is rarely the subject of focused research (Williams, 2003; Lifter, Foster-Sanda, Arzamarski, Briesch, & McClure, 2011). Given the developmental potential that play presents, the aim of this study was to examine the functional play presented by children with autism and SLD, with a view to designing a play framework that enables teachers to support functional play development in the classroom. A pragmatic mixed methods approach was adopted across a three-stage study in three schools. Study 1 provides the background for creating a functional play framework, while Study 2 focuses on the creation of the framework through objective observations of the play activity of a total of 27 children with autism and SLD, as well as interviews with nine classroom teachers. Study 3 was a process of trialling the framework in two schools and collaborating with eight teachers to finalise the functional play framework, in particular by considering its usability. Data collected across the three studies provided a description of functional play that suggests it is more complex than traditionally defined. Four key areas of functional play were identified: interacting with one object; interacting with two (or more) objects; interacting with self; and interacting with the environment. Additionally, 12 subcategories were established as components related to functional play. Teachers reported that they could use the framework to baseline play, set targets and measure play progression for children with autism and SLD. The framework was also identified as a tool that supports classroom management and continuing professional development. The proposed framework facilitates the identification of small increments of progress and extends on other available play frameworks. By developing detailed descriptions of the play that children with autism and SLD present, the framework provides a greater ability to identify precise deficits and, more specifically, to target support in the area of play. Additionally, the collaborative approach with classroom teachers provides diverse viewpoints but also begins to merge the gap between researchers and practitioners in order to ensure a useful resource. Recommendations for further descriptive accounts, greater involvement of classroom professionals in the development of resources and additional trials of the framework are acknowledged.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: autism ; Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) ; autistic spectrum disorder ; severe learning difficulties ; play ; functional play ; C812 Educational Psychology