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Playing A/Part: Autistic Girls, Identities and Creativity

Research methods


The Playing A/Part project takes a participatory and interdisciplinary approach to exploring the identities and lived experiences of autistic girls aged 11-16.

We have drawn upon the lived experience of the autism community, practice-based research methodologies in arts and media, and psychology mixed methods to co-design for use by teenage autistic girls:

  • a creative toolkit
  • a programme of in-person participatory arts workshops
  • a set of online creative resources

The in-person participatory arts workshops, which combine improvisatory drama, storytelling techniques, puppetry and interactive media technologies, are designed to help autistic girls:

  • explore and express different aspects of their identity and lived experiences
  • feel more positive and confident about themselves and improve their mental health and wellbeing

The workshops were initially designed and developed during phase 1 of the project to be delivered in-person to small groups of autistic girls. However, due to Covid-19, we have now translated the creative toolkit and workshops into a set of online resources.

For the online creative resources, we are using an online educational platform (Prospero) together with zoom workshops to deliver the creative toolkit to the autistic girls over a 6-week programme.

These online resources are currently being trialled in different educational settings as part of phase 2 of the Playing A/Part project. Psychology mixed methods (quantitative and qualitative) are being used to evaluate their effectiveness in facilitating a more positive view of the self and in improving mental health and well-being.

More details about each phase of the Playing A/Part project are provided under the relevant tabs below.

Phase 1

In the first phase of the project we developed and trialled a programme of in-person participatory arts workshops at Limpsfield Grange School, with autistic girls aged 11-16. Limpsfield Grange, a project partner, is a specialist school for autistic girls and girls experiencing difficulties with communication and interaction.

Our methodology was informed by a pilot project at the University of Kent in which female and non-binary autistic students worked with arts and media researchers to explore their experiences of perceiving differently through practical workshops; making, according to participants, the “invisible visible”.

At Limpsfield we built on this initial pilot work, undertaking a series of participatory co-discovery creative activities in the form of two-hour workshops with small groups (6-8) of autistic girls. This ensured that the activities were age-appropriate and that they helped the girls explore themselves and their experiences in an enjoyable way.

The participating girls were interviewed individually and in groups about their experiences of taking part in the creative workshops. Their feedback aided further development and refinement of the activities.

At Limpsfield we also trialled the mixed methods (standardised measures, interviews and focus groups) we planned to use in phase 2 to evaluate the effectiveness of the workshops in bringing about positive change in self-perception, self-esteem and in mental health and well-being.

We found that incorporating creative activities into the interviews helped the girls share their experiences and talk about themselves more easily.

The onset of Covid-19 and social distancing measures meant that we could no longer deliver the participatory arts workshops in-person as originally planned. This led us to develop an online version of the creative resources.

An online educational platform (Prospero) is being used to deliver the creative resources to the autistic girls over a 6-session programme (one per week). The sessions covered are: Creativity, Masks, Puppets, Storytelling, Design, Action Art. Each Prospero session is followed up with an hour-long zoom workshop run by two arts practitioners with small groups (2-6) of autistic girls.

These online zoom workshops build on the activities introduced to the girls online, enabling them to share their creative work with each other and the practitioners. They are also designed to help us learn more about the girls’ identities and experiences.

As part of the Playing A/Part project, we are running a Delphi survey. A Delphi survey is an organised way of collecting views and information about a specific issue from people selected for their expertise on a topic.

A Delphi survey is conducted across a series of two or more sequential questionnaires known as ”rounds”. It can be used to achieve agreement between different groups of people about a particular topic, and/or to identify diversity in how different groups of people understand a topic.

We will survey the views of key gatekeepers to assessment (autistic women, educators, GPs, and parents) and academics working in the autism field to:

  • Achieve a consensus on what barriers, if any, exist to the recognition of autistic girls.
  • Achieve a consensus regarding the key qualities and experiences of autistic girls, whilst attending to any differences in views between the groups.

Earlier recognition of autistic girls would help provide more timely support for them, reducing mental health problems and improving education and employment outcomes.

In phase 1 of the Playing A/Part project, as a preliminary to administering the Delph survey, we conducted a qualitative survey. Respondents included autistic women; academics; parents/caregivers of autistic girls; teachers and support workers; and, health professionals (clinicians, GPs).

They were asked open questions about their perceptions and understanding of the qualities and experiences of autistic girls in various areas of development (social, emotional, behavioural, cognitive, and sensory), as well as about the impact of socio-cultural expectations on these.

These responses have been collated and analysed to inform the qualitative and quantitative questions for use in round 1 of the Delphi Survey which will be completed in phase 2 of the project.

Phase 2

We are currently in the second phase of the project, delivering and evaluating the programme of online creative resources in different educational settings, including SEND schools and grammar schools across Kent.

Several established standardised tests are being used, alongside semi-structured interviews and focus groups, to evaluate the online resources.

We want to know if the online creative resources improve the girls’ self-concept, self-esteem, creative self-efficacy, mental health and well-being. The standardised tests used include:

  • The Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale (WEMWBS)
  • Quality of Life in Autism Questionnaire (QoLA)
  • Adolescents’ Self-Concept Short Scale (ASCSS)
  • Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES)
  • Social Self-Efficacy Scale (SSES)
  • Creativity Self-Efficacy Scale (CSE).
  • Camouflaging Autistic Traits Questionnaire (CAT-Q)

It is expected that there will be 3 rounds of questions (including both qualitative and quantitative questions) in the Delphi survey.

The views of key gatekeepers to assessment (autistic women, educators, GPs, and parents) and academics working in the autism field, will be surveyed with 10 individuals representing each group.

Participants’ responses will be collated after each round to inform the subsequent round of questions. Respondents will be able to review their original responses in view of those provided previously by other participants. This will enable a move towards consensus regarding the barriers to recognition of autistic girls, and identification of areas of agreement and disagreement as to the girls’ key distinguishing qualities and experiences.