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Title: A sequential mixed-methods approach to exploring the use of multi-sensory environments with autistic children
Author: Unwin, Katy
ISNI:       0000 0004 8500 8254
Awarding Body: Cardiff University
Current Institution: Cardiff University
Date of Award: 2019
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Multi-Sensory Environments (MSEs) are common in special-needs schools and contain equipment that change the sensory environment for educational or therapeutic benefit. They are widely used with autistic individuals, but the existing evidence base is limited and there are no best-practice guidelines to support practitioners. This thesis presents a series of novel studies investigating MSE use with autistic children. A sequential mixed methods study was used to assess the beliefs and experiences of practitioners who use MSEs with autistic children (Chapter 2). Among the key findings, the practitioners reported that a range of behavioural and cognitive benefits were possible from MSE use and said that giving the child control can improve outcomes. These findings were used to design an MSE and observational coding system (Chapter 3) to empirically test how autistic children use MSEs. Assessing 41 autistic children aged 4-12 years in an MSE (Chapter 4), it was found that having control over the sensory environment led to an overall reduction in repetitive motor behaviours, sensory seeking behaviours and an improvement in attention. However, anxiety, enjoyment and levels of arousal were unaffected by condition, and there was only limited evidence of a change in social communication. Preferences of the autistic children for the different MSE equipment were also empirically tested (Chapter 5), with the bubble tube and touch, sound and light board being most preferred. Preference was affected by sensory profile, IQ, and age, but not autism severity. In summary, this thesis presents the largest study to date on autistic children within an MSE and establishes that the way MSEs are used affects behaviour. The findings have practical implications for practitioners wanting to maximise the benefit of MSEs for their autistic pupils.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: BF Psychology