Capturing the world of physical education through the eyes of children with autism spectrum disorders

Penny Lamb, Dianna Firbank, David Aldous

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The potential benefits of physical education (PE) are universal for all pupils. However, facilitating such benefits in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) requires careful planning. This paper reports on a small-scale case study at one school in eastern England, exploring physical education through the eyes of children (n = 5), aged 12–16, with autistic spectrum disorders. Photo-elicitation was adopted as the research tool to accord authority to the voices of the pupils, empowering them to share their feelings towards the subject by capturing significant aspects of physical education. The photographs provided prompts for greater exploration during unstructured interviews. Using the concepts of Bourdieu's reflexive sociology, the paper draws attention to how pupil's embodied dispositions interacted with what may be illustrated as the delimited spaces of the physical education field—physical education changing rooms, physical education corridors, the physical education teacher's office and physical education activities in the development of positive and negative positions and practices. The teacher's office was regarded positively as were activities that provided opportunities for engagement with peers. Opportunities to be heroic, such as scoring a goal for their team or being given an official role were important factors as was the opportunity to engage in some team sports. However, pupils' interaction with the changing rooms and physical education corridors were viewed with trepidation, worry and fear. The paper concludes by highlighting that both positive and negative interactions with the spaces of physical education develop forms of social and symbolic capital shaping the physical education experiences for pupils with ASD. Anticipating barriers presented within these integral fields of physical education space can help in preparing a rich and inclusive experience for pupils with ASD. Teachers may be better informed in providing strategies to facilitate communication and social interaction whilst allowing all pupils to engage positively with physical education.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)698-722
Number of pages25
JournalSport, Education and Society
Issue number5
Early online date6 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Physical education
  • Bourdieu
  • Informal spaces
  • Pupil voice

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