Deakin-Aston Cotutelle - Psychology and Children's Literature

This is a doctoral Cotutelle project in ‘Psychology and Children's Literature - Exploring children, parent and teachers' perspectives related to neurodiversity, attitudes and wellbeing ' between Deakin University (Australia) and Aston University (United Kingdom). Deakin is the lead institution.

Deakin Project Supervisor

Deakin School

Deakin Faculty


Melbourne Burwood Campus (Australia) and Aston University (United Kingdom)

Research topic

This is a doctoral cotutelle project between Deakin University (Australia) and Aston University (United Kingdom).

The successful PhD Student will be awarded a scholarship from Deakin University with the supervision team being drawn from Deakin University and Aston University. The PhD Student will graduate with two testamurs, one from Deakin University and one from Aston University, each of which recognises that the program was carried out as part of a jointly supervised doctoral program. The project is schedule to commence in October 2024.

The successful PhD Student is anticipated to spend a minimum 6 months and a maximum of 12 months (with approval) of the total period of the program at Aston University in the second year of the program, with the remainder of the program based at Deakin University.

The last few years has seen a huge increase in inclusion of neurodiverse characters in children’s fiction. This coincides with a push to diversify school libraries to ensure children feel represented in books as a way to promote reading enjoyment.

Increased representation of neurodiversity in literature may have additional benefits in raising awareness and understanding of neurodiversity. There is growing evidence that increased awareness and understanding can reduce stigma and promote greater social inclusivity and interactions (e.g. Morris et al., 2023; Stern & Barnes, 2019; Thompson-Hodgetts et al., 2023). Despite this, autistic children continue to present with increased risks of experiencing social exclusion and stigma, due to negative perceptions of autism and reduced acceptance of differences among peers (e.g. Boucher et al., 2023; Morris et al., 2023). Given the potential impacts of social exclusion and stigma on both physical and mental health (e.g. Marusak, 2022), there is a clear need to support children’s understanding of autism and neurodiversity more broadly.

A recent review of school-based interventions identified preliminary evidence of positive changes in behaviour and attitudes toward autism (Morris et al., 2023). Crompton et al. (2023) further highlighted the need for interventions that aim to destigmatise autism by supporting and raising both awareness and understanding of autistic behaviours as a natural way of being, rather than pathologizing and minimising those behaviours. One way to achieve this may be through greater representation of autism and neurodiversity within popular media.

Positive changes in attitude and understanding have been reported after viewing television programmes featuring autistic characters (e.g. Stern & Barnes, 2019), and after reading books featuring autistic characters (e.g. Balaz et al., 2020; Stern 2023), although the precise nature of the representation may be key. These studies support the idea that representation of neurodiversity in popular media – including in literature – a can have a positive impact on both understanding and attitude.

Project aim

The aim of the proposed research is to examine the impact of increasing representation of neurodiversity in classroom reading with children aged 8 - 12 years, who are the main target group for much of the neurodiversity focused fiction. Specifically, we aim to explore whether;

  • (i) neurodiverse children feel represented in these books, and which books they feel the strongest connection with (e.g., does it matter whether the author is neurodiverse themselves)
  • (ii) neurotypical children’s understanding and attitudes toward neurodiversity is influenced by choosing books featuring autistic characters as whole-class reading materials; and
  • (iii) whether inclusion of these reading materials in class causes any change in the wellbeing of neurodiverse children.

Each project may focus on one or more of these specific questions.

Important dates

Applications close 5pm, Wednesday 12  June 2024


This scholarship is supported by Deakin University, is available over 3 years and includes:

  • Stipend of $34,400 per annum tax exempt (2024 rate)
  • Relocation allowance of $500-1500 (for single to family) for students moving from interstate
  • International students only:  Single Overseas Student Health Cover policy for the duration of the student visa.
  • Full Tuition Fee Waiver for up to 4 years
  • Funding to support travel of PhD Student between Deakin University and Aston University.

Eligibility criteria

To be eligible you must:

  • be either a domestic or international candidate. Domestic includes candidates with Australian Citizenship, Australian Permanent Residency or New Zealand Citizenship.
  • meet the PhD entry requirements of both Deakin University and Aston University, including English language proficiency requirements
  • be enrolling full-time
  • be able to physically locate to both Aston University (UK) for 6 - 12 months and Deakin University (Australia)

Please refer to the research degree entry pathways page and Aston’s research entry criteria page page for further information.

Additional desirable skills:

  • experience working with children, including neurodiverse children
  • an interest or with experience in both quantitative statistical analyses and qualitative research methods
  • sound academic writing skills
  • demonstrated personal qualities and proficiencies of high motivation, ability to work autonomously, critical and analytical thinking
  • interpersonal skills that demonstrate the ability to establish and maintain effective working relationships with supervisors and the research team at Deakin and Aston University.

How to apply

Applicants should firstly contact Dr Laura Pecora via email; to discuss the project. Please send through a CV and cover letter summarising your interest and skills for this project.

The successful applicant will then be invited to lodge a formal HDR application to Deakin. The successful applicant will also be required to lodge a separate PhD application to Aston University via the Aston University application page.

Please be aware that screening for this advert will commence immediately and the scholarship may be awarded prior to the closing date.

Contact us

For more information about this scholarship, please contact:

Dr Laura Pecora

View Laura's profile