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How can Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter enable inclusion of and encourage participation of autistic pupils in a year 7 boy’s mainstream classroom?

Jane Elizabeth Gurnett (University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK) (Act for Autism, UK)

Advances in Autism

ISSN: 2056-3868

Article publication date: 6 September 2018

Issue publication date: 25 October 2018




The purpose of this paper is to facilitate a greater understanding of verbal and non-verbal communication in an open space learning (OSL) environment. This is an exploration of the premise that by using Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter as a scaffolding for learners on the autism spectrum, a “safe place” can be accessed.


Using an action research model and following government guidelines, using common assessment framework analysing the findings using School’s assessment criteria model that is used for single exercises through to whole scheme of work: making–performing–evaluating (self-evaluation sheets/peer evaluation sheets/teacher evaluation).


There has been hypothesis that people with ASD may be more able to track their heart beats for longer than neurotypicals. Kimberly et al. (2015) suggest that empathetic abilities and emotional experiences in people with ASD can produce negative experiences, anxiety can occur and the interoceptive awareness and ability to positively relate to self can be caused to dislocate. The use of the rhythm of the heartbeat may aid communication skills in ASD learners.

Research limitations/implications

In the autistic learner, overload, caused by hypersensitivity/hyposensitivity, can also affect and be effected by environmental issues in OSL environment. The autistic learner can be deeply affected. Unlike a desk-based class there is nowhere to hide, no place of safety.

Practical implications

By trying to find a common ground where the autistic learners can realise their full capacity the use of the heartbeat iambic rhythm can, the author posits, impact on the autistic learners sense of self and confidence, aiding learning.

Social implications

As Hunter (2015) espouses, the heartbeat is a nurturing instrument. The author advocates that the heartbeat is also a unilateral marker that unifies a class/the environment at the same time as comforting the autistic learner.


There is an element in every being that has to be present from inception, the heartbeat, it is the first function an embryo performs. The heartbeat also produces a primal symbiotic interdependency in mother and child. It is a pure connection. The author posits that the replication of this pure function can comfort, reassure and foster communication. There is no empirical evidence, but research is currently taking place at the Nisonger Centre at the Ohio State University, where, under the leadership of Dr Marc J. Tasse, pilot workshops have taken place. The author also have no empirical evidence as to why the heartbeat is instrumental in helping the autistic learner to communicate. The author gives the conjecture in the paper.



Gurnett, J.E. (2018), "How can Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter enable inclusion of and encourage participation of autistic pupils in a year 7 boy’s mainstream classroom?", Advances in Autism, Vol. 4 No. 4, pp. 165-173.



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