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Playing A/Part: Autistic Girls, Identities and Creativity

Project summary, aims & objectives

Project Summary

Playing A/Part is an interdisciplinary collaboration (drama, media arts, psychology) working with autistic girls (aged 11-18) and a steering group of autistic women to investigate the different faces of autism and marginalised gender identities, using innovative, creative and participatory approaches pioneered by members of the research team. Improvisatory performance and interactive media are used as creative tools for exploring the lived experiences of this community. The project responds to calls for more research and novel methods to document the distinctive experiences and characteristics of this under-represented  group.  

Autistic women describe experiences of invisibility, masking their identities and “faking it” to be socially compliant. This results in high levels of anxiety, which impact on mental well-being, self-confidence and self-worth, leading to increased rates of depression, self-harm and eating disorders. There is, therefore, a need to support self-development and well-being in autistic girls, especially during adolescence; a crucial time for identity formation during which difficulties and differences can become more pronounced in the face of increasing socio-emotional pressures.

Through its interdisciplinary and participatory approach, the project will produce new knowledge about neurodiversity that will be of value to the autism community, the creative industries, education, health and social care. This has the potential to inform the development of more sensitive diagnostic measures and services, also highlighting the creative potential of this community and challenging existing stereotypes. The project aims to fully engage the autistic community in the research about them and to transform public understanding and awareness. To achieve this we will:

  1. Co-produce a programme of participatory arts workshops and creative toolkit, enabling autistic girls to articulate their lived experiences and identities;
  2. Conduct a specially designed survey amongst a) autistic women and marginalised genders and b) autism experts to achieve consensus on commonly shared features
  3. Deliver and trial a programme of participatory arts workshops in different educational settings;
  4. Evaluate the efficacy of participatory arts workshops to enhance self-perception, mental well-being and self-esteem using new and established measures;
  5. Co-produce and test the feasibility of a participatory arts peer mentoring model in educational and community settings, involving autistic girls and women in collaborative and creative activities;
  6. Engage the autistic community in participatory research and dissemination;
  7. Create an international interdisciplinary participatory research network
  8. Disseminate research findings to stakeholders and the wider public through a programme of impact and public engagement.
  9. The project builds on the team’s previous work exploring autistic identities, perception and creativity, and on methods successfully trialled in a pilot programme of participatory arts workshops using drama and interactive media to explore how autistic women perceived and engaged with their environments and each other. A public engagement programme includes symposia, roundtables, films, educational resources, a media installation, performances and interactive website. Through this collaboration across disciplinary boundaries, using established and novel methods, we will produce outcomes that are more than the sum of their parts, transforming the face of autism research through new autistic voices.

Research Questions:

  1. What can participatory arts contribute to the understanding and documentation of the experiences and characteristics of autistic girls and women?
    • How do autistic girls and  adolescents articulate their experiences through participatory arts practices?
    • What are the distinctive characteristics of autistic girls and adolescents as expressed through participatory arts practices? Are there specific strengths and difficulties?
    • How do a) autistic women and b) a range of disciplinary experts in the autism field make sense of the experiences and characteristics of autistic girls and women?
  2. What role can participatory arts practices play in enhancing psychological well-being through supporting self-perception, self-expression and creativity in autistic adolescents and girls?
    • How do participatory arts practices impact on: a) aspects of the self-perception (self-awareness and self-efficacy); and b) the self-expression and creativity of autistic girls and adolescents?
    • How do participatory arts practices impact on the well-being and self-esteem of autistic girls and adolescents?
    • What is the relationship between the self-perception, self-expression and creativity of autistic girls and their wellbeing and self-esteem?
  3.  How can autism in girls and women become more visible through arts and media practices, and be communicated, evidenced and translated for the benefit of this community and beyond academia?
    • How can autistic women contribute to the education and development of younger generations of autistic girls?
    • How can the experiences of autistic girls and women be translated to academic and non-academic audiences?