Young Children on the Autism Spectrum
: Enhancing Social Interaction and Task Engagements through Visual Arts

  • Andriana Papachrysanthaki

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


International literature on early childhood education refers to visual arts education as central to educational practice. However, visual art lessons in mainstream reception units tend to focus on individual children experimenting individually with art media. An assumption underpinning this research was that structured group activities in art lessons can benefit children with autism in developing social interaction skills. Some scholars recommended modifying mainstream art activities in order to facilitate reciprocal interaction among children with autism, their peers and teachers. The limited number of studies in this field that stimulated the current research into the potential use of visual arts lessons to teach young children with autism. The project took the form of action research in a reception class of a mainstream school in the south west of Greece with four separate cycles of planning, acting, observing and reflecting on practical action. The research developed, implemented and evaluated the effectiveness of a visual arts-based curriculum unit for children with autism, aged 4 to 7 years. It consisted of four sessions and the outcome was a small video animation. The curriculum content was organised around constructing and narrating the story, creating the characters using the traditional art medium of plasticine and finally using the stop-motion application of the iPad to create a video animation. The curriculum intervention set out to: (i) enhance children on the spectrum social interaction skills and (ii) bolster their task engagement through digital storytelling and animation, as part of a team. The main findings showed that the children with autism were more engaged and motivated during the plasticine and iPad tasks. During these tasks, children on the autism spectrum were more included and reinforced for social interactions, such as turn-taking and give-and-take with their peers. They were less engaged or included during a story narration task. However, their engagement and attention were sustained when the narration was accompanied by drawings and pictures. Overall, the visual arts curriculum unit offered opportunities for interaction and enhancement of co-operation, task participation and inclusion. The structure of the sessions and the visual instruction strategies were beneficial, regarding understanding sessions’ content, managing challenging behaviours, as well as improving motivation, participation and turn-taking. Finally, the study discusses effective strategies to include young children with autism in mainstream classrooms. It also discusses the original development of visual arts curriculum units that combine traditional art media with information and communications technology (ICT) devices, and their delivery from teachers to classes, comprising children that are both ‘typically’ developing and with autism.
Date of Award18 Oct 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorAdam Ockelford (Director of Studies) & Rachel Mason (Co-Supervisor)


  • Action Research
  • Inclusion
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Social Interaction
  • Young Children
  • Visual Arts
  • Visual Arts Curriculum Development
  • Special Educational Needs

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