Graduation Year

2015

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

Ed.S.

Degree Name

Education Specialist (Ed.S.)

Degree Granting Department

Psychological and Social Foundations

Major Professor

Linda Raffaele Mendez, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Robert Dedrick, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Phyllis Jones, Ph.D.

Keywords

autism, education, girls, parents, qualitative

Abstract

Although the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is currently 1 in 68 (Centers for Disease Control, 2015) and research in this area is growing, high-functioning individuals on the spectrum are often overlooked. This is because of their relatively milder symptoms. The recent collapse of Asperger Syndrome (AS) with autism in the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5; APA, 2013) also has obscured the differences that may exist between those with higher vs. lower levels of functioning. Among youth with High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (HFASD), girls are a particularly understudied and potentially vulnerable group. Previous research has suggested that girls with HFASD may be more affected by their differences from typically developing peers during adolescence than are boys (Solomon, Miller, Taylor, Hinshaw, & Carter, 2012). Other recent findings suggest that girls with HFASD receive less support than boys with HFASD in school (May, Cornish, & Rinehart, 2014). The purpose of this study was to explore the social and school experiences of adolescent females with HFASD from both the girls’ and their mothers’ perspectives.

The results of the study yielded six themes that emerged from the interviews with four adolescent girls with HFASD and their mothers. Four of the themes were voiced by both the girls and their mothers. Specifically, they both discussed the girls’ high levels of interest in imaginary characters, experiences with teachers and peers at school who did not understand them, the need for kind and flexible teachers, and the girls’ reluctance to initiate in social interactions. Mothers also discussed two themes that were not mentioned by the girls. All of the mothers expressed frustration with motivating their daughters in activities unrelated to their interests and described their role as their daughters’ protectors. These ideas were not mentioned by the girls. Although results are not expected to generalize to all females with HFASD, the current study adds to the scant literature on this population and offers some insight into the experiences that these girls may face during adolescence.

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