Re-imagining identity : the arts and the child with autism spectrum disorder

Dickerson, Karen Waldrop
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In the current literature, little is written about issues of identity in relation to persons with autism. Identity can be defined within a social context, in which individuals are seen as having multiple, changing identities that are expressed in specific, though fluid, social relationships. This dissertation explored the individual arts experiences of four children with autism spectrum disorder in relation to their social identity formation. The dissertation explored three research questions: (a) What are the contextual conditions that aid and make arts experiences salient for the child with ASD? (b) What are the outcomes of arts experiences for children with ASD? and (c) How do these experiences impact the lived experience of children with ASD? Data were collected over four months, beginning in March of 2009 and continued through June, in a private school for children with learning differences in southeastern, Texas. Data included interviews with students, parents and teachers and classroom observations. Qualitative research methodology, specifically, grounded theory was used to analyze the data. Findings were that arts experiences for children with autism spectrum disorder engendered an identity transformation for the participants. The central phenomenon of the study was termed: Re-imagining of the identity of the child with autism spectrum disorder. Through shared discourse of the classroom teachers, arts teachers, and parents, the children participants became identified as “art kids” and “drama kids” within the school community. Re-imagining consisted of re-envisioning the child’s future, re-defining the child by his or her talents versus his or her deficits, and re-interpreting the child’s actions and behaviors.