Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Education)


School of Education


Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) experience communication difficulties that impact upon their capacity to represent and interpret meaning. Research in the field of technology-based communication interventions for students with ASD aims to address these issues in the school setting. While the majority of strategies and interventions reported by the literature are teacher/expert-generated, this study focused on the use of technology to enable student-generated approaches to media-making to enhance communication.

This study involved the implementation of a Digital Media Intervention Program (DMIP) with an Autism support class at a Sydney high school that consisted of seven adolescent males (13-17 years) with ASD. The program was an adaptation of a national project designed for university science educators and their students, but was modified to involve high school students with ASD in the creation of digital media assignments. The media forms utilised for students with ASD to create included a podcast, digital story, animation and blended digital media which have increasing modal complexity. The purpose of the study, therefore, was to investigate the experiences of four high school students with ASD making various digital media forms in a DMIP.

The design of the program employed a staged approach that introduced students to the digital media forms based on an increase in modal complexity. It employed a gradual release of responsibility pedagogical model (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983) that followed a modelled, guided and independent teaching cycle so as to scaffold students towards student-generated digital media-making experiences.

The study employed a multiple case study design and gathered qualitative data concerning the digital media-making experiences of four students in the form of interviews, lesson observations and work samples. The theoretical framework of multimodality alongside a thematic approach to analysis was utilised to describe students’ digital media-making experiences and address the study’s three research questions concerning students’: (i) media-making capacities and use of written, visual, oral and digital technology literacy skills; (ii) awareness and application of modal affordances; and (iii) communication throughout the DMIP.

Findings revealed that with appropriate support, students with ASD were able to create a suite of digital media assignments and employ a range of written, visual, oral and digital literacy skills to communicate meaning. Students also demonstrated that they could combine media to create blended digital media assignments and justify their media use based on an awareness of modal affordances. Students were also able to communicate a range of personal interests in their digital media assignments and respond to the interests of others in a social context as a result of making and sharing their digital media with peers. Difficulties experienced by students throughout the DMIP included issues planning and structuring ideas, difficulty operating software, and social communication challenges related to working in pairs (e.g. joint decision-making and equal responsibilities). Also, students required varying degrees of teacher direction to create digital media.

This study showed that students with ASD can create various forms of digital media to communicate their experiences using a variety of modes especially when they are given opportunities to use their own content. The program could be disseminated to other schools if a specialist support website was built, accompanied by professional learning for teachers and support staff.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.