The experiences of his son the motivation for the doctorate
“Stephen was basically left to his own devices most of the time, as he was seen as an empty vessel, unable to learn.
“This otherness broke my heart. I had an alternative view of Stephen, centered on his competence, abilities and innate potential.”
The frustration and sadness that stemmed from this “otherness” of her autistic son fueled her decision to leave her life as a stay-at-home mom and train to become an early childhood teacher at the Southland campus of the College of Education, with the aim of making a difference for children with disabilities in ECE.
But once she got her graduate degree in teaching, she found it hard to stop. She wanted to research the issue and then got a master’s degree in education, and now she’s about to get a doctorate as well.
His doctoral thesis, titled Expanding Conceptions of the Early Childhood Learning Environment and the Autistic Learners Within It: A New Materialistically Informed Sensory Ethnographywas accepted and will graduate in August.
Ms McAnelly said she didn’t even expect to complete her undergraduate degree, given the responsibilities she was juggling, let alone a PhD.
She intended to graduate when she finished her master’s degree because “just getting to this point felt like a super unlikely blue sky thinking about me”.
However, she found she still had a lot to say about the experiences of children with disabilities in New Zealand ECE settings.
She then pursued a doctorate.
Her thesis explored how the early childhood learning environment produced the active participation and learning of children with autism in two early childhood contexts.
She discovered that people, spaces, objects and practices all had a vital role to play in co-constituting the early childhood learning environment.
They interacted to produce active participation and learning in the two children she was studying.
“I would say that my findings actually apply to the experiences of all children, not just those in early childhood.”
She believed they had a variety of implications for the practice of inclusive teaching, and she was excited about the dialogue her dissertation would hopefully generate.
“What is best for children with disabilities is best for all children.
“We know better, but we don’t always do better.
“It is high time to put the rubber on the road and take inclusive education for all in Aotearoa New Zealand from rhetoric to reality.”