"We are normal, we just have a different wiring"
: A narrative inquiry into the identity and sense-making of adolescent autistic girls

  • Heather Carver

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Educational Psychology (DEdPsy)


Autistic females are often reported as being undiagnosed, misdiagnosed or diagnosed late. Although there has been a recent increasing interest in autistic females, much research aims to operationalise the ‘female autistic profile’. There is a lack of exploration to understand what this often identity changing, but male-biased diagnosis means for autistic females’ identity and sense-making.
This research aims to understand what adolescent autistic girls’ narratives indicate about how they make sense of and identify with their autism. As a key time for identity formation, adolescence was the focus (Erikson, 1968). Secondly, this research aims to understand the significant relationships and experiences that influenced participants’ identification with their autism.
Five adolescent autistic girls were invited to reflect upon their experience of autism. Their narratives were collected during interviews and analysed using Narrative Oriented Inquiry. Participants were provided with visuals and options for their interviews to support their engagement and comfort.
Participants’ narratives highlighted the complex and heterogeneous nature of their constructs of autism. There were some similarities, but also noticeable differences due to their varied experiences. It seemed important for all participants to have had opportunities to explore their autism diagnosis in a supportive and accepting environment, before committing to it. Their self-understanding and being understood by others were integral. Participants needed to experience belonging and reassurance in their families, friendships and schools to conceptualise autism as a difference recognising both the challenges and the positives, instead of a disability.
Implications arose that are relevant for everyone interacting with autistic girls, additionally to specific implications for Educational Psychologists. For autistic girls’ success in a learning environment, person-centred planning is needed. Furthermore, the importance of Educational Psychologists remaining reflexive and examining their own understanding and assumptions of autistic girls is essential.
Date of Award14 Dec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorAmanda J Gaulter (Supervisor) & Rob Green (Supervisor)


  • autism
  • ASD
  • autistic female
  • Asperger's
  • Identity
  • narrative inquiry
  • adolescents

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