IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


A ‘Talking Wall’ could help young autistic people express their emotions and experiences

9 June 2020

A ‘Talking Wall’ has been designed to help young autistic people with complex needs express their views and experiences.

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The Wall, developed by former UCL Institute of Education (IOE) student Norah Richards (who works as an Autism Practitioner at Prior’s Court Foundation) under the supervision of IOE academic Dr Laura Crane, allows young autistic people with complex needs to record whether their experiences of activities are positive, negative or indifferent. By doing this, the Talking Wall aims to increase their independence by helping them to effectively communicate what their interests, wishes and feelings are.

Talking Walls were trialled at Prior’s Court School over a six-month period in two classrooms and two residential houses with 10 young people.

Analysis of data from focus groups and interviews with staff, combined with structured observations of pupils, identified three key findings: 

  1. the need to support the expression and evaluation of emotions that underlie the young people’s preferences;
  2. the importance of recognising the impact of transitions on pupils; and 
  3. the important role of familiar adults in interpreting communication bids. 

The researchers also found that staff required specialised training in order to support adults interpreting the young people’s communication.

These positive, initial findings suggest that the Talking Wall approach merits further development and evaluation. The researchers recommend that further studies should address the teaching of emotion in young autistic people with complex needs as a priority, as the young people often struggled to label their negative emotions.

Dr Crane, Deputy Director at the IOE’s Centre for Research in Autism and Education (CRAE), said: "It was a pleasure and privilege for CRAE to collaborate on this wonderful project with Prior's Court. It is essential that more research identifies how to give a voice to a group of young people with very complex needs who so often don't get 'heard', and it's lovely to see how the Talking Walls have had such a positive impact on the school and the pupils.

“This project was also a brilliant example of why more research needs to be led by the priorities of schools and conducted in collaboration with them. It's these kinds of partnerships - merging rigorous research methods with the expertise of the staff who know their pupils so well - that will ensure our work makes a genuine and meaningful difference to both research and practice."



Image by Gino Crescoli from Pixabay