Romantic Relationships: An Exploration of the Lived Experiences of Young Women who identify with a Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Prof Doc Thesis

Landon, Shona 2016. Romantic Relationships: An Exploration of the Lived Experiences of Young Women who identify with a Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Prof Doc Thesis University of East London Psychology
AuthorsLandon, Shona
TypeProf Doc Thesis

Background: It is well established that diagnoses of autism spectrum disorders are increasing in numbers nationally. There has been a recent and growing awareness amongst clinicians of females on the autism spectrum having unique and different presentations, and that these females may be overlooked for diagnoses until later in life. This focus on females has not been reflected in published research; there is a paucity of research on the unique experiences of females on the autism spectrum. Furthermore, whilst research indicates that some young autistic adults aspire to have, and enter, romantic relationships, previous studies have had a quantitative focus and have not explored the unique experiences of females, hence the need for qualitative research on the lived experiences of romantic relationships of young autistic women.
Current research: This qualitative study used semi-structured interviews with six young women (aged 19-29) to gather data on their experiences and aspirations about romantic relationships. Five of these young women had received a formal diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder and one had self-diagnosed. This study takes a social constructivist epistemological perspective and used interpretative phenomenological analysis to analyse data.
Key findings and implications: Key themes for individual participants included relationship violence and abuse, child sexual exploitation and grooming, non-monogamy, unassertiveness in relationships, and rejection. Themes which were found across more than one participant included vulnerability and naivety, asexuality and non-heterosexuality, gender identity and confusion about flirting. The implications of these findings are that young autistic women may be vulnerable to relationship abuse or exploitation. This is the first qualitative study where autistic young women have spoken about their non-typical gender identities and sexualities. A committed romantic partnership is an aspiration for some autistic young women and with an increasing focus on aspirations and preparing for adulthood, educational psychologists will have a role in helping support young women to reach these outcomes.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Publication dates
PrintJul 2016
Publication process dates
Deposited05 Jan 2017
Publisher's version
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