"They really didn't get to see me"
: Towards an Interactive Bioecological Model of Autism - Education, Understanding and Relationships

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis proposes an exploratory model of autism that has been created by combining Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Systems Theory with Shakespeare’s Interactive Model of Disability. The Bioecological Systems Theory highlights the impact on the individual from their surrounding ecosystem, with a particular focus on bi-directional communication between the individual and those within their microsystem. The Interactive Model of Disability emphasises the value of information regarding autism from both the social and medical models of disability. Drawing on the work of Erving Goffman, additional consideration is given to how individual perception of autism might influence the flow of information that is filtered through his or her ecology. Using a qualitative methodology, this study positions the voices of five pupils with autism who experienced a mainstream primary education alongside those of other writers in the fields of education and autism. This synthesis clarifies the importance of understanding the individual and complex experience of autism.

The following themes arose from the data: perspectives of autism and the lived experience in education; understanding autism in education through reciprocal communication; and finally, the need to develop better pupil/teacher relationships. The first theme considers how perspectives of autism are continuously influenced through the individual’s lived experiences. This in turn, can have an impact on their communication, which can in turn enhance their perspectives. The second and third themes are combined to highlight the potential for teachers and pupils with autism to base their understanding of the other on first-hand experience through reciprocal communication in order to develop their relationship. It is proposed that this process could create a deeper, more reliable understanding for both individuals, decrease anxiety for the pupil in the classroom, and form a better basis for the flourishing of future relationships.

An Interactive Bioecological Model of Autism is proposed as an exploratory model that could demonstrate the components that autism needs to be considered with if better relationships founded on mutual understanding between pupil and teacher can be actualised.
Date of Award6 Aug 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Winchester
SupervisorWayne Veck (Supervisor) & Caroline Stockman (Supervisor)

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