It Takes a Community: How Environmental Systems Construct (In)Competence in Autistic Peer Interactions

Veronica G. Vidal*, Daniela P. Wachholtz, Laura J. Mattie, Laura S. Dethorne

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Purpose: This study aims to illustrate how environmental systems shape the peer interactions of an autistic student within the classroom. Method: Drawing on the bioecological model of human development, this situated discourse analysis used thematic coding and microanalysis to examine data from semistructured interviews and 10 sessions of direct classroom observations of a 9-year-old autistic student and his classroom communication partners. Results: Convergent data across participants, time, and data sources revealed the following systemic influences on peer interaction: predominant medicalized view of autism (macrosystem), educational practices (exosystem), misaligned roles across adults and peers in the classroom (mesosystem), and multimodal opportunities for direct interaction that were supported by objects and physical contact and inhibited by rapid pacing (microsystem). Conclusions: Findings illustrate the environmental complexities associated with the development of peer interactions for autistic students. We offer explicit clinical implications for how environmental factors can be addressed in the school-based eligibility determination process and in the Individualized Education Program.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-81
Number of pages19
JournalLanguage, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.


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