Using the intense interests of autistic pupils to improve motivation and engagement in secondary education (Student Project)

Roseanna Louise Tansley.

Integrated PhD in Education.

1.3% (42,555 pupils) of the secondary school population in England have autism identified as a primary need and there are numerous reports of poor academic and social experiences amongst this group. The intense interests that form part of an autism diagnosis relate to an increased focus on specific topics or objects and are reported to positively impact learning when effectively embedded into teaching. However, there is very little research into evidence-based practices for supporting pupils at secondary school and most research on intense interests relates to primary-aged rather than secondary-aged pupils. I therefore aim to explore the concept of embedding intense interests into aspects of teaching to improve motivation and engagement for learning within a secondary school context, listening primarily to the voices of autistic pupils and their teachers. To achieve this, I will address the following research questions: 1) What are the different ways intense interests are used within classrooms to facilitate motivation and engagement for autistic pupils at secondary school? 2) In what ways is it best to approach the implementation of using intense interests within secondary school classrooms to support learning? This will be explored through adopting a qualitative methodology, using semi-structured interviews with autistic pupils and their teachers to gather perspectives on how important these intense interests are to autistic pupils, and how these could be embedded into everyday classroom practice.