DRF News

Request for Interest in PhD project

Message from DRF Member: Jill Smith


I’m in the market for some families to collaborate with me in my PhD research project at Sheffield University. I’m coming towards my second year of study now and looking for parents and children who would be willing to share their experiences with me.

The project aims to explore the ways in which families talk about autism and their children, and how others around them speak about their child and autism too. I am hoping to broaden my understanding of the ways families involved in ‘autism’ perceive wider discussions of what autism means for their child and their lives.

I feel it would be useful to share a little of my background and motivations for undertaking this PhD to help you understand the direction I’m coming from and to help you decide if you would like to work with me.

My academic interest in this area is both personal and practical beginning in 2006 during a voluntary placement at The Toby Henderson Autism Trust in Northumberland as part of my undergraduate study. Having no prior experience of working with autistic children this time proved exciting, engaging and challenging. Returning to the academic world to see what ‘autism was all about’ I found myself troubled by how little I felt the written world of autism reflected the everyday world of working with autistic children that I experienced. I found it almost impossible to find anything written about the real, the personal, the everyday lives and relationships of autistic children and their families. I was overcome, and disappointed by what seemed to be the dominance of pessimism that seemed to cloud study after study.

I have continued to work with autistic children and their families throughout including summer play-­schemes and work within family homes. I feel that we need to listen more, explore more, and talk more about the lives of autistic children; their happiness, their relationships and their futures outside of the worlds of medicine and psychology, which is what brought me to my PhD studies.

It is with these motivations that I am hoping you would be interested in taking part in this project.  My aim is to work with you towards promoting new ways of talking about autism, autistic childhoods and the everyday value within their relationships and daily lives.

I’m looking for families that are willing to share their experiences and their time. I am hoping to spend time with you informally to talk through my project and to hear your stories about your children. I’d like to spend time with your child too and get to know you all in as relaxed and informal way as possible – I don’t want my research to become a burden or a further obligation in yours or your child’s lives. If you’d like to meet for a chat about what I’m doing and/or taking part that would be brilliant – or we can do it via email etc.

Thank you all in advance for taking the time and the interest to read this – I look forward to hearing from, and meeting some of you soon, I hope!


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