How Supporting the Everyday Information Practices of Students with Autism Can Enhance Their Sensory and Social Well-Being


  • Kevin Mallary Old Dominion University



autism spectrum disorder, sensory well-being, social well-being, library and information services, higher education


Higher education students are expected to master everyday life, which involves receiving and processing copious information, completing assignments, communicating with their professors and peers, planning for their careers, and building life skills (e.g., budgeting finances, managing schedules, securing housing). To accomplish those tasks, students seek, use, and share information in normative ways, behaviors called everyday information practices. For students with autism, however, engaging in everyday information practices can be difficult due to affective, cognitive, and social barriers. Institutions unaware of or unwilling to accommodate autistic students’ information needs may not provide the structural agency these students need to receive the same quality education as their neurotypical peers. This study defined structural agency as the people, information, norms, and tools (e.g., accommodations, technologies) within a higher education institution that aid students’ everyday information practices.

Studies of autistic students’ everyday information practices emphasize information professionals’ perspectives (e.g., academic librarians, disability support coordinators, professors) and seldom elicit students’ information needs. Hence, I employed Grounded Theory Method to understand – from autistic students’ experiences – how institutions enable them to master everyday life. I conducted initial and follow-up interviews with 16 autistic students from two flagship universities in the United States. Participants also created everyday life maps, illustrations of their information practices for mastering everyday life. Multiple rounds of data collection and analysis revealed participants’ information practices and their recommendations for enhancing sensory and social well-being. Implications for academic librarians include developing sensory well-being spaces and providing information literacy skills instruction for building self-advocacy.






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