How Creative Film-making Can Help to Improve the Social Communication Skills of Children on the Autism Spectrum

This paper is a presentation of the researcher’s PhD research, which is an investigation into the ways that film-making can help to improve the social communication skills of children on the autism spectrum.

Research into how children with autism engage with screen-based technology is primarily concerned with how screens can be used to transmit information, for instance how showing video-recorded behaviour to children can be used to teach them practical and social skills (eg Charlop-Christie et al, 2000; Corbett, 2003; D’Ateno, 2003). Whilst this method may be a useful way for the child with autism to learn desirable behaviour, it does not offer them much opportunity for self-expression. Teaching elements of film production to children on the autism spectrum could provide them with a means of communication that is not reliant on language.
The researcher’s background is in film-making, and much of his professional work has been in film education.This research project is therefore partly a reflection on his own practice, augmented by an investigation into the work of another practitioner, who runs film-making activities in a primary school for children with autism in Cardiff, South Wales. These activities were video-recorded, and analysed using NVivo, looking for instances where the film-making process provided opportunities for social communication.

In order to identify the particular social communication skills that can be addressed by film-making, this research is drawing on the SCERTS educational framework, a well-established educational intervention that provides a means of assessing and setting social communication goals for children with ASD.
Early results from the research suggest that film-making can be a novel way of encouraging children with autism to engage with others in a manner that takes advantage of their natural tendency to engage with information on screens. This is more likely to happen if an individualistic approach is adopted, in which a film project has been developed to align with a child or childrens’ pre-existing interests. The research also highlights some of the barriers to running film-making activities in schools.