New research to begin on autism and girls following major AHRC grant

Martin Herrema
Puppets are used in the autism project, as demonstrated by Dr Melissa Trimingham

Researchers at the University are leading a new research project to investigate the experiences of autistic girls through drama, interactive media and participatory arts.

The £806,475 research grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for the project, entitled Playing A/Part: Investigating the experiences of autistic girls through drama, interactive media and participatory arts, will see the researchers working with a steering group of autistic women, several of whom are successful authors, performers and artists. The project is in partnership with Limpsfield Grange School in Surrey and will run for 3 years.

The project aims to properly document the particular experiences of autistic girls, who are under represented in research, using novel methods of creative practice and interdisciplinary evaluation pioneered by the research team.

These will include film, puppetry and performance and mixed methods of evaluation to determine if such methods have a positive impact on the self-perception, mental well-being and self-esteem of the participating adolescent girls.

Professor Nicola Shaughnessy of the University’s School of Arts is the principal investigator in the project, which also involves her colleague Dr Melissa Trimingham and Dr Rocio von Jungenfeld of the School of Engineering and Digital Arts in a collaboration with psychologist Dr Emma Williams at the University of Surrey.

Professor Shaughnessy said: ‘Whilst it is now recognised that autistic girls are under researched, there is very little information about their lived experiences, although there is increasing concern about their mental health with reports of increased risk of depression, self harm and eating disorders in this vulnerable group. We are delighted to be working on a project that is interdisciplinary and participatory in order to understand more about the experiences of this community.’

Sarah Wild, Headteacher at Limpsfield Grange, said: ‘We’re trying to get politicians to understand that this is a group who are massively under-diagnosed, but also that there are not the right services out there for them or the awareness, including GPs who don’t understand what female autism looks like.’