The educational experiences of autistic females

  • Carla Tomlinson

Student thesis: Doctor of Educational and Child Psychology


Traditionally, autism has been conceptualised as a principally male condition though more recently, this traditional view has been challenged with the suggestion that girls are more likely to be under-diagnosed because of their ability to mask symptoms. Previous research into autism and education has focused on the experiences of autistic individuals in general and samples have largely consisted of male participants. The first paper describes a systematic literature review (SLR) of papers exploring the educational experiences of autistic females. 8 papers published between 2014-2018 were selected using the PRISMA framework and analysed using a conceptual framework devised from the literature into autism and education in general. The second paper, an empirical investigation reports three case studies in one secondary school context recognised for good autism practice. Semi-structured interviews with three autistic female pupils were conducted to highlight experiences of attending mainstream school. Interviews with parents and staff were used to provide a multi-perspective view of experiences. The final paper focuses on dissemination at the research site as well as more broadly. The SLR suggest that many of the educational experiences of autistic females are similar to those of their male counterparts, including difficulties accessing the curriculum, sensory needs and difficulties with social relationships. Areas highlighted as different include the tendency for females to mask their autism and differences in the perspectives of parents and staff regarding level of need. Thematic analysis of the interviews highlighted experiences of anxiety in relation to environmental, curriculum and relationship factors alongside inconsistencies in staff understanding, awareness of need and subsequent accommodations. The findings also showed that the girls valued the importance of being able to share their experiences. Findings from both the SLR and the empirical report highlight the importance of training school staff to understand the specific presentation and needs of autistic females. To increase the impact of this research, the findings will be disseminated at the research site as well as at the Educational Psychology Service where the researcher is based and at national conferences.
Date of Award31 Dec 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorCaroline Bond (Supervisor) & Judith Hebron (Supervisor)


  • school experiences
  • autism
  • gender differences
  • girls
  • autistic
  • educational experiences

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