Williams, Kathryn

Williams, Kathryn
Start date:
October 2022
Research Topic:
The role of communication in access to healthcare for autistic adults
Research pathway:
Research Supervisor:
Dr Katy Greenland - Social Sciences and Dr Dikaios Sakellariou - Healthcare Sciences
Supervising school:
Ysgol y Gwyddorau Cymdeithasol,
Primary funding source:
ESRC Studentship

Autistic people often have poor health outcomes, with a vastly lower life expectancy than non-autistic people. Autistic adults’ healthcare access is a current UK research priority, and a growing body of literature examines the barriers autistic adults face in accessing healthcare. This research has been instrumental in understanding the disabling sensory environments of healthcare settings, mutual misunderstandings between healthcare providers and their autistic patients, and difficulties in booking healthcare appointments e.g., by telephone. However, this can lead to the problematisation of ‘autistic traits’ or individual healthcare providers, rather than considering how healthcare and societal structures are designed around neuronormativity.

Therefore, my research aims to explore the social structural factors that disable autistic adults when they seek healthcare by answering the following research question:

What are autistic adults’ experiences of ableism during healthcare interactions, particularly when communicating their healthcare needs?

Application of the social and relational models of disability are required to critically examine the relationships between autistic patients and healthcare providers who, by training, are often using medicalised, deficit-focused paradigms. Furthermore, not being believed is a recurring issue for autistic patients, implicating the role of epistemic injustice, which I will use as a theoretical lens throughout the project.

Using a critical autism studies approach, I will be using a qualitative approach to my research design, incorporating observational methods to explore the interactions between autistic patients and their healthcare providers, and the ableism within them. This research must be intersectional in design; therefore, consideration of the accessibility and inclusivity of the project will be made to ensure I encompass the compounding inequalities faced by autistic people from minoritized ethnicities and genders, and for those who also have a learning disability and/or do not communicate using speech.