University of Gothenburg
Children sitting at their desks in rows in the classroom

Educational research and ESSENCE

An overview of the research programme Educational research and ESSENCE including past, ongoing, and future research projects.


Children sitting in classroom, colourful art

Schooling and learning are central to the development of the individual and the society. In the research group Educational research and ESSENCE, we study conditions for learning in people with neurodevelopmental disabilities. We are guided by an interactionist perspective, where difficulties that arise in the learning environment are seen as a result of a poor "match" between the individual's abilities and the design and demands of the physical, communicative and social environment. According to this perspective, interventional efforts focus first and foremost on the environment, for instance through increasing knowledge and understanding of people's different ways of functioning. We also try to contribute to the development of what is called the "Science of learning" and where learning and pedagogical issues are studied interdisciplinary and using a wide range of research methods. 

Programme supervisors

  • Jakob Åsberg Johnels
  • Gunilla Westman Andersson


  • Ida Lindblad
  • Eva Billstedt
  • Elisabeth Fernell
  • Sebastian Lundström
  • Magnus Wårhag

Previous and ongoing projects 

There are several research tracks in the group's previous and ongoing research activity:

• ESSENCE, learning environment and educational policy

Preschool classroom with children engaged in various

Examples of research concern the preschool as an important environment for collecting relevant information in autism diagnostic process (Westman Andersson et al., 2013) or how preschool staff perceive that team-based neurodevelopmental assessment contribute to understanding and everyday work with children with suspected ESSENCE (Westman Andersson et al. , 2014). Another important area of ​​research concerns a "school for all". In one study it was pointed out that some students with ESSENCE do not seem to have the cognitive capacities necessary for meeting certain knowledge requirements as they are formulated in the Swedish school's governing documents (Lindblad et al., 2018), which is a result of potentially important policy implications - we think it is reasonable that the knowledge and cognitive requirements in our mandatory public schools are formulated so that they are challenging but manageable for all students. Evaluation research linked to the "Special pedagogy for learning" initiated by the National Agency for Education (Thoutenhoofd et al., 2020) is also carried out.


• Academic skills and ESSENCE

Young boy sitting at school surronding by books

For several years, we have studied the overlap between reading-and-writing difficulties and other ESSENCE problems (eg Kadesjö & Gillberg, 2001; Åsberg Johnels et al., 2019). In an ongoing project, we have found that about 1 in 2 children with dyslexia (reading and writing difficulties) have clear signs of other NDD / ESSENCE diagnoses, especially ADHD, and that an even larger proportion have subclinical "features" (Brimo et al., 2021). We have also conducted classroom-based research in collaboration with teachers on how reading comprehension development can be supported in students with an autism diagnosis (Åsberg & Dahlgren Sandberg, 2010). More recently, we have used methods from cognitive neuroscience and modern cognitive psychology, such as eye movement registration and EEG / ERP, to understand in even greater detail the underlying mechanisms of reading development (Galazka et al., 2021).


• Parent education and the parental role

Femal professional leading parent education group

In a third research track, we focus on parents of children and adolescents with ESSENCE, which is done in collaboration with colleagues at the Unit for Child Neuropsychiatry (BNK) and the child and adolescent habilitation services (Rensfeldt et al., 2023). For instance, we study experiences and the effect of group-based parent education focused on adaptations in everyday life (“everyday pedagogy”) and on collaboration between family and preschool / school in planning educational strategies / adaptations for children with autism. In these important areas, there are large knowledge gaps for research to fill. In an ongoing VR project, we try even more systematically to integrate educational sociological perspectives in the research on the connection between ESSENCE and schooling. We hope to specifically study identify how environmental factors such as parents' socio-economic status relate to academic achievement and goal fulfillment among students with neurodevelopmental disabilities and symptoms. The long-term goal is to contribute with knowledge that can help more children, and preferably everyone, to succeed in school. 

Planned research 

In future research, we hope to deepen the lifelong perspective on learning in people with NDD/ESSENCE.

Social inequality concept and gap between rich and poor man
Photo: Prazis Images/


Piles of books

Brimo, K., Dinkler, L., Gillberg, C., Lichtenstein, P., Lundström, S., & Åsberg Johnels, J. (2021). The co-occurrence of neurodevelopmental problems in dyslexia. Dyslexia (Chichester, England), 27(3), 277–293.

Flink, A. R., Broberg, M., Strid, K., Thunberg, G., & Johnels, J. Å. (2022). Following children with severe or profound intellectual and multiple disabilities and their mothers through a communication intervention: single-case mixed-methods findings. International journal of developmental disabilities, 69(6), 869–887.

Galazka, M. A., Hadjikhani, N., Sundqvist, M., & Åsberg Johnels, J. (2021). Facial speech processing in children with and without dyslexia. Annals of dyslexia, 71(3), 501–524.

Kadesjö, B., & Gillberg, C. (2001). The comorbidity of ADHD in the general population of Swedish school-age children. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, 42(4), 487–492.

Lindblad, I., Westerlund, J., Gillberg, C., & Fernell, E. (2018). Har alla barn i grundskolan förutsättningar att klara nya läroplanens krav?. Lakartidningen, 115, EY3L.

Andersson, G. W., Miniscalco, C., & Gillberg, C. (2014). Preschoolers assessed for autism: parent and teacher experiences of the diagnostic process. Research in developmental disabilities, 35(12), 3392–3402.

Thoutenhoofd, E. D., Söderlund, G., Westman Andersson, G., Berhanu, G., & Gerrbo, I. (2020). Utvärdering av kompetensutvecklingsinsatsen Specialpedagogik för lärande (SFL).

Westman Andersson, G., Miniscalco, C., Johansson, U., & Gillberg, C. (2013). Autism in toddlers: can observation in preschool yield the same information as autism assessment in a specialised clinic?. TheScientificWorldJournal, 2013, 384745.

Åsberg, J., & Sandberg, A. D. (2010). Discourse comprehension intervention for high‐functioning students with autism spectrum disorders: preliminary findings from a school‐based study. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs10(2), 91-98. 

Åsberg Johnels, J., Carlsson, E., Norbury, C., Gillberg, C., & Miniscalco, C. (2019). Current profiles and early predictors of reading skills in school-age children with autism spectrum disorders: A longitudinal, retrospective population study. Autism : the international journal of research and practice, 23(6), 1449–1459.