The use of tablets to encourage the development of joint attention skills in children with autism spectrum disorder

  • Chrysoula Mangafa

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    The aim of this research was to explore ways in which iPads and other mobile tablets can be used in the classroom and home environment to support children with autism spectrum disorder in the area of joint attention skills. It focused on understanding the nature and importance of these skills in children with autism according to the participants’ experiences and on investigating the use and potential of mobile tablets in contributing to the development of joint attention skills.

    The research drew upon the transactional model of child development and followed an action research design. Reflection on the initial findings generated plans for change, which then shaped the next stages of the research. Interviews, observations, focus groups studies were carried out to investigate the level of understanding of joint attention skills and how their development is currently supported in the classroom and home environment; and to observe such support in the classroom especially when mediated through iPads. These studies, together with focus groups with key stakeholders led to the development of guidelines on how teachers and parents can use mobile tablets to support the development of joint attention skills in home and primary schools (Reception-Key Stage 2). These were developed and refined in consultation with teachers, parents, children and academics.

    This was the first study that measured the number of times children initiated and responded to joint attention and the number of times teachers used strategies to gain, sustain and redirect a child’s attention with and without the use of technology in a school setting.The findings showed that children were more times engaged in joint attention when using the iPads than without. The participants were not familiar with the term joint attention but used the term social communication to refer to the child’s ability to share interest, keep eye contact, take turns in an interaction or game, follow gaze and pointing, understand other’s feelings and interact with others by using symbols, speech or gestures. Both parents and teachers used evidence based strategies when interacting with the children but the need for guidance on how to use the mobile tablets was highlighted.

    The proposed guidelines include evidence based strategies, tablet based activities, and criteria on how to select mobile applications. They aim to help teachers reflect on and improve their teaching practice, as well as urge parents to use the tablet with their child in more collaborative ways. It is suggested that future studies should focus on bridging the gap between theory and practice by investigating the practitioners’ perspectives and experiences in developing joint attention and social communication skills in children with autism with the use of mobile interactive technologies in naturalistic settings.
    Date of Award2017
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University

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