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PhD in Population Medicine: Understanding multi-party communication in therapy sessions for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Sensory Processing (SP) difficulties: The value of interaction analysis

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  • Full or part time
    Dr L Brookes-Howell
    Dr C Jones
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Sensory Processing (SP) difficulties are very common in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Children may be hyper or hypo-reactive to stimuli, which can result in behavioural difficulties, and poor motor control. There is substantial potential burden for children with ASD, and their carers and families in terms of the stresses and challenges of living with ASD, and the physical and psychological toll that meeting these challenges take.
The SenITA Randomised Controlled Trial compares manualised Sensory Integration Therapy (SIT) to Usual Care for primary school aged children with ASD and SP difficulties. SIT is a client-based approach that focuses on the therapist-child relationship and uses play-based sensory motor activities to influence the way the child responds to sensation. Carers play an important role in the therapy encounter as they participate to facilitate engagement and provide feedback on strategies they have tried at home.
The way ASD affects child patient-carer-healthcare professional communication has not been sufficiently examined in previous research. There is a need for greater understanding on how to include children with ASD in their encounters, consistent with health equity goals. Multi-party communication between child patient-carer-healthcare professional in the general healthcare setting poses challenges for healthcare professionals. Furthermore, previous qualitative research aimed at understanding the experiences of parenting a child with ASD typically rely on methods which ask for reports of experiences but do not look at real-life instances of carer and child interactions.
This study will have full access to the large, longitudinal SenITA dataset of video-recordings of real-life SIT sessions between therapist, child-patient with ASD, and carer(s) (sample size = 108 participants receiving 26 one hour sessions over 26 weeks). Rather than rely on therapists’ and carers’ accounts of therapeutic encounters, these data show not only what is actually said but how it is said. The student will carry out a discourse analysis of a sample (sample size and strategy to be defined in year 1 following literature review and scoping of dataset) of the SenITA video-recording dataset to explore how therapists communicate with children with ASD and their carers. This will include close study of how their relationship alters over time. More specifically, they will explore interactional strategies to achieve therapeutic alliance; the interactional role of children with ASD; management of clinical and everyday realities; and carer identity work.
The student will also carry out triangulation using different methods of interaction analysis. A smaller sub-set of data will be used to compare the results of discourse analytic methods with other interaction methods (e.g. Roter Interaction Analysis System, Medical Interaction Process System, Conversation Analysis) on the same data, to make recommendations on the value of different interaction analytic methods.
The student, who will have a background in social sciences and/or health or educational psychology, will use results to identify key components of an intervention to optimise communication and encourage inclusion of children with ASD and SP difficulties within the therapeutic setting, and to explore the broader impact of findings for different interactional settings, such as the classroom.

Applications must be made via the University’s online application service SIMS Online. Candidates are only permitted to submit one application but may select a maximum of three projects, ranked in order of preference. In order to be considered candidates must submit the following information:

• Supporting statement
• CV
• Qualification certificates
• References x 2
• Proof of English language (if applicable)

The process for applying will be made clear on the advertisements. The PGR Office will be responsible for checking eligibility.

Applications will be accepted for UK and EU candidates wishing to study on a full time basis staring on 1st October 2018. Candidates must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree or the equivalent in an appropriate area of biomedical sciences. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have a Master’s degree or have significant relevant non-academic experience. Candidates will need to have achieved at least 6.5 in IELTS (and no less than 6.5 in any section) by the start of the programme.

Funding Notes

The studentship is generously funded by the School of Medicine

Tuition fee support: Full UK/EU tuition fees

Maintenance stipend: Doctoral stipend matching UK Research Council National Minimum

Additional funding offered: Additional funding is available over the course of the programme and will cover costs such as research consumables and training.

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