Date of Degree

6-2020

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Psychology

Advisor

Kristen Gillespie-Lynch

Committee Members

Jennifer Drake

Jennifer Wagner

Christina Nicolaidis

Elizabeth Pellicano

Subject Categories

Developmental Psychology

Keywords

autism, autistic identity, adolescence, transition, young adulthood, university accommodations

Abstract

Personal identities grow and change across development, co-constructed and renegotiated within our environment, through our interactions, and by our relationships with the people and places around us. This dissertation aimed to explore the development of autistic identity in adolescence as influenced by parents, introduces a novel method for measuring emotions and autistic identity where participants rate their emotional responses to autistic experiences, and explores the influence that colleges and universities may have on autistic identity in young autistic adults.

In a study of 19 autistic adolescents and their parents, if and how parents disclosed an autism diagnosis to their child impacted the autistic child’s own perceptions of autism. To assess autistic identity in college students and address a gap in currently available assessments of autistic identity, this dissertation embarked on the development of a novel measure of autistic identity in partnership with autistic researchers. When surveying 71 university-level students, strengths-based programming was associated with autistic pride and increased self-esteem, well-being, and belonging at university. This study also reports on the services and accommodations used by students, which services were found to be most helpful, and how students would like to see services at their university improved.

These studies highlight the importance of positive perceptions of autism and strengths-based spaces created by and for autistics to foster positive autistic identity. Recommendations concerning if and how parents choose to speak with their children about an autism diagnosis and how university supports may be developed in a participatory manner to have the most positive impact on development are discussed throughout.

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