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A penny drops

Every so often I read something and suddenly begin to realise that not only do I understand some at least of what I’m reading but I can actually apply it to my own work! Today was one of those days!

Through a message and link in CPsquare – an online community exploring communities of practice – I came across a couple of pieces written by Martin Packer. I hadn’t come across him before, but he had worked with Jean Lave around 1990 and had taught a course ‘Everyday Learning and Life’ with her. The pieces I was looking at were a conference paper presented at an AERA meeting in Montreal in 1999 and an article co-written with Jessie Goicoechea and published in Education Psychologist in 2000. Both explored the ontology of learning, though, as might be anticipated, the journal article had a more in-depth theoretical base.

The first thing I got from this reading was actually beginning to understand what the terms ontology and epistemology mean. I’ve encountered them enough times in various publications and I’ve looked them up in dictionaries, but never really felt confident that I understood what either term actually meant. In the context of these two pieces, both of which were concerned with learning, it became clear that epistemology had to do with knowing and to describe a learning theory as epistemological meant that it had to do with the process of gaining knowledge that could be tested – OK, it’s probably more complex than that, but that will do for me for the moment. Ontology is not about knowing but about being and becoming and learning approaches that can be described as ontological have to do with who a person is becoming through the learning experience. This in turn opens up the notion of learning being about personal change and finding an identity.

As this was dawning, I began to get excited. The initial focus of my research was exploring the learning journeys of those who care for and support children and young people with diagnoses of Aspergers or HFA. From the data I already have, I know that parents undergo a transformation from being a parent to becoming the parent of a child with an ASC to being the parent of a child with an ASC and that part of that transformation is about identity and part of it is about acquiring knowledge about the condition and support infrastructure. Similarly, teachers choosing to specialise in this area move from being a teacher to becoming a specialist teacher. The routes taken may be different, but there is a change. I would expect to see a similar move in other specialists and carers involved with young people on the spectrum. Obviously, not everybody will undergo that identity change. Some may acquire knowledge without any kind of transformative learning or change.

There have been a number of research studies examining the coping strategies of parents of children with Aspergers. Many of these have focused on parents’ perceived needs after receiving a diagnosis and principle amongst these is generally a need for information. Some have also looked at parents’ coping styles and identified different ways in which parents have coped physically, emotionally and spiritually with having a child who is different. One of my interests is the use of the metaphor of struggle within the literature and discourses and I have been tentatively wondering if there is a connection between struggle and coping. I can now see that both are in some ways connected with the process of becoming the parent of a child on the spectrum.

I’ve got a lot more thinking to do, but I have a sense of having got hold of a piece of the jigsaw and found where it fits.

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