Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning


The purpose of this study was to investigate and describe the perceptions of three high functioning adults with autism about their life experiences. After a review of the literature, I determined that there is a lack of information regarding adults with autism, especially those at the high end of the spectrum. There is a great deal of information regarding the educational needs of individuals with autism; however, there are few studies available which address the unique needs of the adults. I wondered “What can we learn about adults with autism that we did not know before? What can they tell us about their life experiences?”

The participants in this study were three high functioning adults with autism who lived in different cities across the United States. I met, visited, and corresponded with them over a nine-month period of time, beginning at a national conference on autism in July 1999 and ending in April 2000.

Qualitative research methods were used to study the perceptions of the life experiences of high functioning adults with autism. These methods included initial visits and interviews, follow-up interviews, and the reading of published and unpublished material written by the participants.

Through analysis of the data, an overall main assertion, three themes, add several sub-assertions were developed. Each theme and assertion was documented and supported with verbatim data and related literature. These themes and assertions are summarized as follows.

High functioning adults with autism want to be considered experts in the field of autism, have opinions on, and want to be consulted on issues related to autism.

They see, and believe in, the value of others learning about autism directly from the sources themselves. They are proud to have autism and do not desire to be a neurotypical, whom they see as narrow-minded and biased.

Over time, with experience and education, high functioning adults with autism have developed opinions on a wide variety of topics related to autism. They believe that group living is dehumanizing, issues of employment are a big problem, behaviors need to be addressed individually and positively, and the use of gentle and supportive techniques is the best way to teach social skills.

Recommendations to parents and professionals involved in working with individuals with autism were provided.

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