THANK YOU! and why your contribution matters so much

This blog post was written by three of my students, Bérengère, Kirsty, and Maggi, who have all recently completed surveys as part of their research projects. All in, they managed to accumulate more than 600 participants, which is absolutely fantastic! As an extra thank you and to acknowledge and reflect on our work within the community, here’s a blogpost by the three of them, about the importance of recruiting large sample sizes for each of their projects, and using our community networks for circulating the surveys

 What are each of these projects about?

Bérengère: My survey, the Autism & Bilingualism Census (ABC), had two main focus points: the link between bilingualism and social habits in autism, and the story behind how autistic people become bilingual. In the first section I asked autistic adults (monolinguals and bilinguals) about their social lives. In a second section I asked the bilingual participants about their language history: what are their languages, how they learned them, how they use them, and how they feel about bilingualism in autism. The findings will be the first to draw a demographic and linguistic picture of the bilingual autistic population in the UK and beyond. The findings will also be the first steps of my PhD project studying the link between bilingualism and social interaction in autism.

Kirsty: I have been exploring the school experiences of autistic adults, and how they relate to the school experiences of non-autistic adults. I asked both autistic and non-autistic adults to fill in an online survey to find out find out more about both groups’ schools experiences: what was different for people on the autism spectrum and what is common among everyone? The survey was especially focused on whether people felt they had been understood by their peers (autistic and non-autistic) and their teachers. We hope this will help us to develop tools and resources for schools to help improve the school experiences of autistic pupils.

Maggi: My survey was looking at how technology is used in autism education. I was asking educators and staff who work with autistic children (e.g. teachers, support staff) about what technology they used in school and how they felt about using it – does technology have positive effects, negative effects, or a mix? The data will be used to design future work on the influence of technology on social interactions in autistic children, putting current practice at the centre of the study design.

Thank you so much to everyone who has completed our surveys!

Now we have our data, we really wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you – but this blog is not reporting about our results which are still being explored. We will each be circulating a report to participants who left their details once we have completed our analyses, so please stay tuned!

YOUR contribution, completing our surveys and sharing them with friends, enabled each of us to exceeed our targeted sample size. We cannot stress how important it is to have a large sample size, especially in this area of research! When conducting studies that are attempting to ask questions that will have real life impact – like how to use technology in the classroom – we cannot make assumptions based on a small number of people. Imagine asking 27 people whether they prefer Dairy Milk or Galaxy chocolate and then banning the other one from the shops!

So why does sample size matter so much?

As allies to the autistic community, we have to do our best to ensure that our research is actually going to benefit people on the autism spectrum. Without a big enough sample size, we cannot make legitimate claims about what the results from our research mean.

Like having a big enough voter turnout in general elections to provide a legitimate authority in government, we needed large number of people completing our surveys to ensure that we could draw meaningful conclusions from our research.

For example, thanks to all the people who took part in the ABC, Bérengère will be able to go further than a simple comparison between monolinguals and bilinguals. This is very important because bilingualism is not a black and white picture. Thanks to the ABC’s large sample size, Bérengère will be able to look at which features of bilingualism (the age of acquisition, or level of proficiency, for example) influence social life the most in autism.

Similarly, Kirsty can explore how other factors affect people’s school experiences – such as gender and how long it has been since people have been out of secondary education. Moreover, it means that she has been able to conduct follow-up with interviews with the most appropriate volunteers for your questions. These interviews are comparing school experiences of those who have recently left high school versus those who have been out of high school longer. It allows us to make stronger conclusions regarding autistic school experiences, and understand how changes in autism practice have had an influence. This would not be possible without a large sample size.

Finally, Maggi will be able to create a more representative picture of how technology is used in autism education. This is important because the future project work will be based in education settings, where context and practitioners’ views will inform study design decisions. For example, if iPads are frequently used and highly valued by practitioners it might be appropriate to evaluate their impact to form an evidence base, but if iPads are not remotely valued – perhaps due to concerns about screen time – it might be appropriate to select another technology or compare iPads with something else that isn’t screen based. Having a large sample size means that more views are taken into consideration, which ultimately makes the design decisions harder to make, but increases the relevance and validity for the practitioners; considering different perspectives and experiences about technology.

Can you bear to do one more survey for us?

We are keen to find out more about your experience taking part in our research so we can know what we are doing well and what we can do to improve your participant experience. The Standard Participant Question Response (SPQR), is a feedback form developed by two members of the Autistic Space Kit team with constructive critical comments from members of the Autistic Advisory Panel to the National Autism Project. The questions are designed to allow researchers to check that participants have understood and appreciate the research you have taken part in.We can use this feedback to help us improve our research materials in the future.

If you still have yet more appetite for survey responding, here’s a chance to feed back on your experiences. The survey is only five questions and should take just a minute or two. We’ll share this again when we circulate the results for each survey to the relevant participant group.

If you took part in:

Thank you once again for your input. We are working hard to deliver results that matter to the autistic and autism communities and to turn this information into useful, practical materials.  We couldn’t do it without you and we value all your contributions! Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any other feedback for us.