Autism and the Experience of Closeness: An Interpretative Phenomenological Study

Prof Doc Thesis

Schwaerzler, Josef 2012. Autism and the Experience of Closeness: An Interpretative Phenomenological Study. Prof Doc Thesis University of East London School of Psychology
AuthorsSchwaerzler, Josef
TypeProf Doc Thesis

The present study is the first qualitative investigation of the experiences of
closeness in romantic relationships for individuals diagnosed with Autism
Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their partners. Eight participants in long term
relationships, four of whom had been diagnosed with ASD, four of whom had
partners with a diagnosis, were interviewed regarding their understandings and
experiences of closeness in the context of their relationships. Interpretative
Phenomenological Analysis was chosen as the method of analysis. Three
dominant themes emerged: closeness as authenticity, discovering the partner,
and autism as an essential difference. These themes were present in all
participants’ accounts. Subordinate themes revealed distinctions in the
experiences of participants with and without a diagnosis, but, overall,
commonalities were as significant as differences. The experience of closeness
required that the partner felt able to express freely his or her “authentic” self
through his or her actions, in the confidence that these would be understood,
accepted, and responded to by the partner in a congruent fashion. Participants’
understandings of ASD, as well as their partners’, were integral to their
experiences of closeness; within the diverse accounts gathered, autism
presented both obstacles to, and opportunities for, the experience of closeness.
The findings resonate with some aspects of dominant models of autism and
closeness, but problematise others, and demonstrate the distinct contribution that
qualitative research can make to the understanding of these constructs and their
relationship to each other. Consideration is given to the implications of the
findings for clinical work with people in relationships where one partner has a
diagnosis of ASD, and to potential directions for future research.

Keywordsromantic attachment; closeness; autism
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Publication dates
PrintAug 2012
Publication process dates
Deposited04 Apr 2013
Publisher's version
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