The perspective of various people who work with children with autism was the focus of a dissertation by Joanna Galea, who recently completed her postgraduate studies in Inclusion and Special Educational Needs (SEN) at the University of Birmingham, UK.

The study made use of a mixed-method approach as its aim was to obtain different viewpoints, from a transdisciplinary team in an educational setting, in relation to the attention skills of children with autism. The five levels of attention skills were focused upon in the study, namely attention, sustained attention, selective attention, alternating attention, and divided attention. These levels relate to the mental control one needs to keep and handle the absorbed information.

The participants in the study consisted of parents and professionals who support primary school-aged children. The latter included educators, speech language therapists and occupational therapists. Each participant completed an anonymous online questionnaire and, thereafter, the researcher conducted a follow-up interview with four participants who had kindly expressed an interest to further discuss the research topic.

The participants in the study consisted of parents and professionals who support primary school children

The interviews were conducted with a parent, an educator, a speech language therapist, and an occupational therapist. Through these two sequential data collection methods, the researcher was able to obtain a broader view of local experience according to the field of the interviewees.

A statistical approach and an interpretive approach were used to analyse the quantitative and qualitative data respectively. Through the study, the researcher gathered interesting perspectives of parents and professionals regarding the attention skills of children with autism, including factors that might distract and strategies that might help improve their attention skills.

Among the key findings, it emerged that unfortunately in Malta, there is a lack of awareness, research opportunities and training about the attention levels of children with autism, even among the people who support them.

The research work was supported by the Tertiary Education Scholarship Scheme. Joanna Galea also thanked the Ministry for Education’s Scholarship Unit for its support to help her pursue her educational goals.

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