Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Education Theory and Practice

Content Description

1 online resource (x, 161 pages) : illustrations.

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Reza F Behnagh

Committee Members

Kristie A Saddler, Julie Learned


Autism, Case Study, Embodiment, Participatory Sense-Making, Stereotypic Repetitive Behaviors, Children with autism spectrum disorders, Stereotypic movement disorder, Stereotyped behavior (Psychiatry)

Subject Categories

Education | Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education | Special Education and Teaching


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects one in 59 children in the United States (CDC, 2018). ASD is defined as impairments in communication, socialization, and engagement in stereotypic and/or repetitive behaviors (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Much attention is given to the deficits in communication and socialization while stereotypic repetitive behaviors (SRBs) are the focus of interventions to extinguish these behaviors with little understanding of what role these behaviors play for people with ASD. The engagement in and function of SRBs is less prominent in the literature. Stereotypic repetitive behaviors vary in engagement, function and topography. This study examines how SRBs manifest in the natural setting of school environments. Past research has framed ASD from a traditional approach to cognition that focuses on the process of symbols and computations, but this study considers situatedness and embodiment or an enactive approach to cognition (Varela, Thompson, & Rosch, 2016). A multiple descriptive case study was conducted using interviews, observations and document analysis to provide a robust description of how stereotypic repetitive behaviors manifest in schools. Two themes emerged from the data centered around the structure of teacher-directed activities through expectations, contingency and trust and on the structure of student-directed activities around predictability and physical supports. The findings of how SRBs in students with ASD manifest in the natural setting of schools found that: (a) Stereotypic repetitive behaviors varied in characteristics specific to the child; (b) Stereotypic repetitive behaviors varied in frequency specific to the structure of activities. Environments were structured as supports for students with ASD who engaged in SRBs while engaging in and completing academic and social task. This study adds to the understanding of how to structure educational environments for students with ASD to promote success. Future research should focus on how individuals with ASD view SRBs and what meaning these behaviors have for individuals. Future research should also focus on research that takes an enactive approach to cognition to broaden our understanding of individual’s abilities versus deficits.