An analysis of educational dialogue as support for learning for young pupils with autism in mainstream schools

Carmel Conn, Mererid Lewis, Siwan Matthews

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Dominant deficit-focused discourses of autism have supported the use of specialized practices within education. This is despite the fact that recent micro-level research provides evidence of overlooked interactional competence in autistic children and problematizes the idea of their unavailability to ordinary teaching methods. The aim of this pilot project was to investigate processes of learning and teaching for two autistic pupils identified as doing well in their respective mainstream primary schools. The study used a participatory design in which practitioners were invited to be co-researchers and contribute to the gathering and analysis of recorded information about interaction. Transcription conventions used in conversation analysis were applied to moments of interaction that were identified by co-researchers as significant. Analysis demonstrates that practitioners showed a strong preference for a dialogic teaching approach to extend pupil thinking, for example, following the pupil’s lead in interaction, asking rather than telling and taking an interest in the pupil as a person. Pupils demonstrated their ability to respond effectively to this, including participating in interaction at a structural level of cooperation and providing preferred responses with minimal pauses. Practitioners used talk flexibly, to support topic learning in relation to lesson content, but also to support areas of social-emotional learning that are seen as important for pupils on the spectrum.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)251-265
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Inclusive Education
Issue number3
Early online date10 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020


  • autism
  • inclusive pedagogy
  • dialogic teaching
  • conversation analysis


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