A spectrum of understanding: A qualitative exploration of autistic adults’ understandings and perceptions of friendship(s)

Karri Gillespie-Smith*, Ally Pax Arcari Mair, Aljawharah Alabtullatif, Helen Pain, Doug Mcconachie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Background: Previous research has often documented that friendship is an area of difficulty for autistic people however this may be caused by a neurotypical understanding of friendship. The current study aimed to adopt a more inclusive account of friendship, involving an autistic participant group representing a range of genders and communication preferences while exploring the following question – What are Autistic adults’ perceptions of friendships? Method: Participants (n = 20) were interviewed using their preferred method of communication (speaking and non-speaking) during 2021-2022. Results: The results showed that three main themes emerged under an overarching theme of A Spectrum of Understanding: Identity with Others, Sharing Value, and Shared Presence. The inclusive approaches used in the current study allowed under-researched autistic groups such as non-speaking autistic people and autistic people who identify as non-binary to participate in meaningful research. Conclusions: The study offers a new perspective on Double Empathy theory (Milton, 2012), suggesting it may be helpful to conceptualise it as a continuum of neuro-cultural learning rather than a distinctive binary centred on an autistic-allistic misunderstanding. Increased understanding of friendships in autistic groups will help to increase awareness of social belonging and support that can protect against poor mental health outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAutism in Adulthood
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 23 Oct 2023

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