Missing voices
: The educational experiences of girls with autism

  • Gillian O'Hagan

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This study is a Photovoice exploration of the experiences of adolescent girls with autism from mainstream schools in Northern Ireland.

The female presentation of autism has remained largely unexplored and in particular, the adolescent female perspective of autism has had limited voice. Photovoice, a participatory arts-based method, has been used to expose both the challenges and coping strategies adopted by nine girls with autism (11-18) in four post-primary schools across Belfast.

Using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), the research uncovers six main themes in portraying the lives of the participants: School as a safe place; Obstacles to learning; Importance of idiographic curriculum; Sensory overload; Coping strategies; and Identity and Challenging the Assumptions of autism. To increase the wider understanding of girls with autism and to fulfil the goal of Photovoice, the research culminates in three photographic exhibitions at: Queen’s University Belfast; the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont; and the University of Atypical for the Belfast International Arts Festival 2019.

The findings of both the IPA and Photovoice exhibitions are critical in subsequently informing those stakeholders involved in curating transition support services and in-school interventions for girls with autism.

This pioneering use of Photovoice by girls with autism demonstrates that the voices of these girls have been previously overlooked and need urgent, idiographic acknowledgement across support and education services while simultaneously cultivating civic responsiveness in terms of neurodiversity, specifically girls with autism.
Date of AwardDec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorBronagh Byrne (Supervisor) & Ruth Leitch (Supervisor)

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