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Publication - Professor Debbie Watson

    From Individualism to Co-Construction and Back Again

    Rethinking Research Methodology for Children with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities


    Simmons, B & Watson, DL, 2017, ‘From Individualism to Co-Construction and Back Again: Rethinking Research Methodology for Children with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities’. in: Berni Kelly, Bronagh Byrne (eds) Valuing Disabled Children and Young People: Research, Policy, and Practice. Routledge, London


    Children with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) are said to experience severe congenital impairments to consciousness and cognition stemming from neurological damage. Such children are understood as operating at the pre-verbal stages of development, and research in the field typically draws conceptual resources from psychology to devise educational interventions and assessment tools. Criticism has been levelled at studies which treat children with PMLD as objects of research rather than subjects to be consulted. Proponents of the latter view have attempted to redress the situation by exploring how personal experiences can be gleaned through adapted qualitative methods. Debate about methodology in the PMLD field tends to coalesce around these individualist polemics: children with PMLD are either positioned as incompetent and lacking voice; or researchers are positioned as lacking the appropriate tools to gain access to such voice.

    This paper offers an alternative position to the individualism of post-positivist/constructivist approaches, identifying the need for a critical and participatory approach which sees knowledge about children with PMLD as situated and co-constructed through regular and longitudinal interaction between the researcher, children with PMLD, and significant others. Context to this argument is provided by exploring the application of this approach
    to an inclusive education research project for a child with PMLD.

    Full details in the University publications repository