An Exploration of Identity Formation in Autistic Adolescents, its Relationship with Psychological Wellbeing, and the Role of Mainstream Education Provision in the Identity Formation Process
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Paper one: The aim of paper one was to explore identity formation in autistic adolescents and the relationship between this and aspects of psychological wellbeing. Twenty-two participants (aged 11-18) with a diagnosis of autism from nine mainstream secondary schools completed scales on anxiety, self-esteem, and acculturation into autistic and non-autistic identities (cultural competence, identification, preference, and involvement). Nine of these participants also participated in a semi-structured interview to elicit in-depth perspectives in relation to aspects of acculturation listed above. Statistical analysis revealed no statistically significant relationship between measures of psychological wellbeing and acculturation types (bicultural, assimilated, separated, and marginalised), although descriptive statistics showed bicultural and marginalised participants had the greatest psychological wellbeing. The interviews were analysed thematically and data from six were separated into participants’ acculturation type. Findings revealed differences between the types; however, the large number of similarities was felt to suggest that the acculturation types are not as distinct within autism as other minority groups. Additionally, the impact of negative treatment and difficulties with social interactions within autism were felt to contribute to the lack of a statistically significant relationship between biculturalism and psychological wellbeing within this population. These findings are discussed in relation to other studies exploring identity formation and psychological wellbeing in minority groups, with limitations and suggestions for further research included. Paper two: The aim of paper two was to explore the perceived contextual factors that relate to identity formation in autistic adolescents attending mainstream education provision. Eight participants (aged 11-16 years) with a diagnosis of autism from four mainstream secondary schools participated in a semi-structured interview. Additionally, twenty participants (aged 12-18 years) with no known diagnoses from the same four mainstream secondary schools participated in one focus group with four members. Thematic analysis was undertaken on the two data sets and then these were compared and contrasted to reveal a number of key similarities. Autistic students can be seen as going against the ‘norm’ and can be treated negatively by peers. Students were generally felt to lack understanding about autism and have limited means to find out about it in school. Participants without autism, and some with, reported a strong desire for students to have increased understanding of the condition. These findings are discussed in relation to literature exploring the role of schools in identity formation, with limitations and suggestions for further research included. The two papers conclude with a discussion regarding implications, in relation to theory, practice, and the role of the EP.
DEdPsy in Educational Child and Community Psychology