December’s Disability Research Forum session

The December Disability Research Forum will take place on the 11th of December in Arundel 10212B at 2.30-4.30pm. Our speakers will be two postgraduate students who are based at Sheffield Hallam University and will talk about their PhD work.

Our first speaker is Stephanie Swain

Disabled peoples’ conceptualisations and experiences of self-harm

Self-harm is an important concern in the UK, partly as it is the most prevalent predictor of eventual death by suicide and death by any cause (Cavanagh, Carson, Sharpe & Lawrie, 2003; Hawton, Harriss & Zahl, 2006). During my Masters Degree which in part looked at older adults experiences of self-harm, I became aware that some of their reasons sounded as though they may also apply to disabled people; however I found very little research in this area. In this presentation I will take you on my journey from Masters Degree to my current position in my PhD. I will highlight some of the key literature within self-harm research and offer some critique in relation to this and disabled people. Additionally I will talk about the research which is available which attempts to deal with both.

I will go on to speak about my plans for my own research, the methodologies I intend to use and what my completed phase 1 research addressed. Additionally I will provide some very initial observations from this phase.

Due to the sensitive nature of the topic I will discuss some of the ethical issues that I have faced and speak about how I have overcome these especially in relation to my phase 1 research.

Finally I will move on to outline my approximate timeline for completion.


Our second speaker will be Emma Rice.

Sense of self and autism: the mainstream secondary school experience

Autism research has been dominated by the medical model approach, which emphasises a diagnosis of deficiency, positioning autistic young people as an example of abnormal development. Sense of self research regularly employs autistic young people in comparison with their normative counterparts and takes this deficit approach. Here, autism and a sense of self is explored in terms of what is lacking in comparison with others. My research aims to allow autistic young people to reclaim their sense of self, telling this story of ‘who am I?’ with their own voice. This approach therefore draws on participatory paradigms to explore how autistic young people conceptualize their sense of self, with a focus on the mainstream secondary school environment. Currently, very little is known on how mainstream schooling enables or disables self-esteem and sense of self for autistic pupils. Therefore, my research explores the influence of the school environment on the positive or negative valence of autistic young people’s sense of self. Within my participatory approach, I am following the plurality of research methods advised by Stone and Priestley (1996); the autistic young people involved can employ individualized modes of expression to enable their opinions and experiences to be heard. Consequently, my research will draw together visual, verbal and written methods into a qualitative thematic analysis to consider the research questions I have proposed. Within this presentation, I will be exploring current research literature, placing my research in the context of the current research landscape. I will set out the participatory paradigm and plurality of methods I employ and explore my own positionality, including the challenges this brings to the research process. Having just begun to collect data, I will also offer preliminary thoughts and the conflicts my positionality has brought to the research process. Here, I do not wish to draw final conclusions on this position but instead wish to invite reflective discussion on the challenges and conflicts I have identified so far within my research project.

Key words: autism, sense of self, mainstream secondary school, participatory, positionality.

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