The acceptance of autistic children using mobile computing devices in UK Christian religious spaces: An interpretive phenomenological analysis of the perceptions of senior clerics
This research aims to explore the acceptance of mobile computing technology use by autistic children within religious spaces by UK-based Christians. Using an interpretive phenomenological approach to exploring the views of senior clerics within three major UK-based Christian denominations, this research aims to identify the key themes that shape the acceptance of such use. It is intended that this research might raise awareness of any barriers to that acceptance whilst considering the opportunities associated with mobile technology use by autistic individuals in churches. This research contributes to the discourse in practical theology and church organisation theory and management, along with information systems and user acceptance. It is anticipated that the outcomes of this research may contribute to policy-making decisions by churches and other groups within the UK Christian community.
This research adopts an interpretive phenomenological approach to explore the attitudes and views of senior clerics within the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox denominations. It examines attitudes towards the use of mobile technology by autistic children in churches and other places of worship through the use of unstructured interviews (conversations with a purpose).
Through thematic analysis of the interview data, six emergent themes are identified, representing the key themes that shape the acceptance of mobile technology when autistic children use it in churches and religious settings. These are Inclusivity, Role of Clergy, Theological Thought, Purpose of Use, Digital v Analogue and Individual and Community.
Participants in the study emphasise the UK Christian community's need and desire to consider the use of mobile technology as part of an inclusive culture, where autistic children and their families felt supported and have a sense of belonging. Mobile technology use is recognised as a positive tool to help autistic children. Given the wide range of styles of churchmanship (style of worship) and cultural characteristics of different groups, including within denominations, the influential role of clergy at a grassroots level was considered a key determinant in shaping the acceptance of mobile technology use in the local communities, mainly through the demonstration of good practice and raising awareness. The purpose of use is identified as being important, and that acceptance of mobile technology use in religious spaces may be subject to some caveats, primarily due to concerns around the potential for members of the churches to be distracted or distract others around them. Theological thought is identified as having a more indirect influence on the attitudes toward computing technology acceptance, along with the desire to include autistic children and their families in the life of the Church. An individual and the community's needs and expectations of worship events and the environment are recognised as playing a role in the acceptance of mobile device use within churches. The distinction is also made between the use of digital and analogue tools to support liturgical engagement and play.
Whilst barriers to the acceptance of mobile technology use within religious spaces exist, this research suggests that the desire to include autistic children and their families could serve as a strong motivator for the UK Christian community to consider or address potential barriers to acceptance. Recommendations are also included for further research work to be conducted in this area and for the consideration of the Christian community, particularly church leadership and policymakers.