Like many research students, one of my concerns is the need for some kind of originality in the work I am undertaking. I am still unsure exactly what that means – and how much originality is necessary – but it seems to relate to various different things.
It could be originality of method – not so much inventing a new methodology as using existing methodologies in different ways.
It could be exploring an area which hasn’t been explored before.
It could be exploring an area which has been explored before but from a different perspective.
It could be bringing a range of ideas from different areas together and looking at how they interconnect and may provide a different way of looking at an area.
The more I read about my area of interest – the learning journeys of those involved in caring for and supporting children and young people on the autistic spectrum – the more work I realise has already been done. I also realise that much of this work has been done from very specific perspectives: the support needs of parents following diagnosis; the parent as advocate; the continued professional development of teachers or doctors or social workers; the role of electronic media in informing patients. Although partnership is a theme – partnership between parents and professionals in various settings – it is unclear how much this is a reality most of the time, although there is a fair bit about the advocacy role of parents.
One of the possible areas of interest is the contrast between the formal processes and the informal processes, for example what the code of practice says should happen and what happens in practice – and why don’t the two match up. Another area is the whole question of whether there is an autistic spectrum community of practice. If it exists, where does it exist and in what form? Or is it a number of discrete areas of expertise in which some participants are able to act as gatekeepers giving access to their area of expertise, or infiltrators gaining knowledge of another area.
Looking at learning journeys is about the various ways in which people learn about the spectrum. Knowing that there is a mix of formal, informal and serendipitous probably doesn’t tell us much of itself, but when this is applied to the outputs of the domain, i.e. the services, resources, support, etc, and the decision making processes, life gets very interesting.