Around 2% of secondary school and university students in the UK are autistic and there are numerous reports of poor social experiences among this group. Educational intervention research tends to focus on younger children leading to a substantial research gap on support during the transition to adulthood.
Given the well documented engagement of autistic young people with media technologies, ‘affinity spaces’ created around shared interests in social networking sites/SNS (e.g. art-related exchanges on Reddit or Facebook comics groups) represent a significant untapped resource for understanding social practices outside educational institutions. While existing literature focuses on psychosocial outcomes of SNS use for autistic adolescents, the project brings in perspectives from sociocultural linguistics to provide description and understanding of how autistic young people communicate and interact in ‘affinity spaces’. Combining techniques from corpus-assisted discourse analysis and visual participatory methods we will develop a methodology that re-orients the focus from speech pathology to the agentive and creative adaptation of discursive and technological resources. Focusing on both public and private SNS accounts, the project will carry out a longitudinal analysis of observed user actions, user-generated posts, interview and workshop data to identify contextual features facilitating interest-driven interaction between autistic and non-autistic social media users. The results will lead to support initiatives that are inclusive of young people’s focused interests and communicative preferences.
Discussing her research, Nelya said "Social media interest groups and networks are important because they connect autistic young people with people who share their passions and therefore may help sustain social networks during the transition to adulthood. One of the exciting things about the project is that we will co-produce guidance with young people and collaborating charities (National Autistic Society, Living Autism, and Autistic Girls Network) on how to adapt existing interest-focused environments in order to accommodate autistic young people. We will also be able to offer guidance to educators who want to create or moderate such spaces."
Find out more about the Wellcome Discovery Award here