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Kate McAnelly, PhD Candidate

Kate McAnellyDo I matter here? Sensory environments in early childhood settings and how they produce the active participation and learning of autistic children.


My thesis will address the multitude of ways the sensory environment in early childhood settings produces the active participation and learning of autistic children. There is a current dearth of literature that describes how sensory environments impact on children’s learning, yet the anecdotal evidence suggests it has a significant influence. This is particularly problematic for autistic children, as many of whom have sensory processing capabilities that mean they experience sensory stimuli in ways quite different to the expected ‘norm’. This then impacts on their ability to actively participate and learn within those environments. What I am wanting to do is explore how the people, spaces, objects and practices that comprise early childhood environments intra-act in the production of active participation and learning for autistic children, alongside considering sensory dimensions of meaning making and becoming that support this process. In order to investigate how this is possible, I am taking dual new materialist and sensory ethnographic methodological approaches while conducting case studies in a series of early childhood settings. My main goals in conducting this research are to define what a sensory environment is, to make visible its importance for the active participation and learning for not just autistic children but all children in early childhood settings and beyond, and in doing so, to challenge what a learning environment is considered to be beyond traditionally accepted notions of indoor and outdoor.


Dr Michael Gaffney (primary supervisor)
Professor Alex Gunn (secondary supervisor)