Author Identifier

Jillian Stansfield

Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education

First Supervisor

Dr Bill Allen

Second Supervisor

Dr John O'Rouke


The prevalence of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in classrooms is an increasingly common phenomenon in schools in Australia and in many other countries. While there is increasingly growing literature on how autistic boys manage and are managed in schools, little is known about the learning needs of girls on the autism spectrum. One reason offered for this imbalance of literature is that fewer girls are diagnosed than boys, as their presentations may differ. As girls on the autism spectrum are an underdiagnosed phenotype, it is little wonder that teachers do not have adequate knowledge or strategies to support girls in the classroom.

The shortage of research evidence on autistic girls in the education context is one reason why girls are missing out on vital supports and understanding in the classroom due to the lack of knowledge and resources available to teachers. This, in turn, means teachers are underprepared to teach girls on the autism spectrum. One of the main aims of this study was to develop knowledge and theory about girls on the autism spectrum and their diverse learning needs in the early years of schooling, to provide further support to teachers and their students with an autism diagnosis and those who are yet to be diagnosed.

This qualitative, in-depth case study explored the learning experiences of two girls on the autism spectrum in early years classrooms, to develop knowledge and theory on autistic girls’ varied behaviours and characteristics and how they can be best supported. Key ideas emerged throughout the cross-case analysis and were categorised under six themes: Communication, Academic, Social, Sensory, Identity and Encircle. Encircle further encompassed four areas: Challenges, Intervention, Professional Development and Classroom Strategies. Each area overlaps one another and impacts the key themes for every student on the autism spectrum. From this process, the CASSIE tool was developed to identify girls on the autism spectrum in the early years classroom and assist teachers to better manage their learning and social experiences.

Development of CASSIE was the principal outcome, a teaching tool and resource for teachers to understand how girls on the autism spectrum learn and help them develop strategies for these students to reach their potential in the classroom. The CASSIE tool will not only benefit teachers and parents, but the wider support network of girls on the autism spectrum who are both diagnosed and undiagnosed. In doing so, it will shine a light on the learning needs of girls on the autism spectrum to ensure they are no longer invisible.

Access Note

Pages 170-172, 231-236, 255-265, 267-268, 271 are not available in this version of the thesis.