Today’s blog is the last of the week of LGBTQ+ research focussed articles and is a special edition to celebrate Autistic Pride Day which takes place tomorrow, 18 June 2022. In it, we are featuring Jo Clough who is a PhD student looking at the experience of autistic women accessing social care. Although we particularly wanted to showcase her work for Autistic Pride Day, Jo explains why her work is also relevant to the LGBTQ+ community in general.
What is the research project you are currently working on?
I did a master’s in social work at Bristol University and I guess my dissertation and work as a student social worker inspired me to do what I’m doing now. Alongside this, the project also stems from personal and professional experiences of male bias and seeing how this plays out time and time again in research, practice and day-to-day life.
I’m looking to interview autistic women and that’s anyone who identifies as a woman or basically non-male – so non-binary, trans, anyone who doesn’t exclusively identify as male!
It’s to do with their experiences of adult social care, so whether people have had support from social care or whether they’ve tried to access it. I’ll be doing semi-structured interviews and I’m offering a variety of different formats to try and capture as many voices as possible because there’s a large number of people that quite like typing, for example, rather than just your traditional face-to-face talking interview.
How is this relevant to the LGBTQ+ community?
I’m coming from an intersectional lens, so I’m interested in how all different kinds of marginalised groups are impacted. For instance, a black gay autistic woman is very likely to have different experiences compared to a white, heterosexual autistic guy. I’m looking at how these characteristics and social identities overlap and can pose as barriers to accessing services and support. At times these can be subtle barriers that it’s not always easy for people to see.
More specifically to the LGBTQ+ community, current research shows that there are higher rates of ‘non-heterosexuality’ in the autistic population and then, even more specifically, it’s higher in autistic women than it is in non-autistic women. So it’s very pertinent to the community, and going on from that, gender diversity is higher again in autistic populations compared to neurotypical populations, so it is very relevant to the community.
Is the motivation for your research more to raise awareness or do you have a specific goal of increasing support for these people in some way?
It’s quite a few things really. Even though there is research that might talk about autistic women or autistic people, it might not even report on sexuality or race. If you just talk about the LGBTQ+ community specifically, research shows that mental health outcomes are poorer, and then you throw autism into the mix and it’s even poorer again. So yes, it would be great to raise awareness, not just about getting support, but knowing that the support is there. The funny thing is that although there’s all this medicalised talk going around with autism, the way you get a diagnosis is through behaviour. So it’s a very socially diagnosed label and a lot of people don’t realise they’re entitled to social care support.
What do you think is the biggest challenge of getting to hear those voices?
There’s all kinds of reasons I think. I’ve found going out and putting up paper posters in the community more difficult than I expected – people almost treat me like I’m a big company looking for free advertising! We’re living in COVID times – charities are stretched, some are stressed. And because I’m trying to get a variety of voices and do something a little bit different to what’s out there already I haven’t gone through standard routes, like contacting the National Autistic Society for example. So far I have found online methods to be the best, which makes sense when, as I said, there is a preference for online forms of communication, because obviously, you can have your video off, you can type, and also have that processing time which is really valuable in a world where that is not really the norm yet.
Will you be celebrating Pride yourself?
Yes, I will be going to the parade but also to Bitch, Please! which is an afterparty in the courtyard of the Christmas Steps. They have some great local DJs and the profits go to the Albert Kennedy Trust, which is an LGBTQ+ youth homelessness charity, and to the All Out Ukrainian LGBTQIA+ fund. So it will be great fun but all in a good cause as well!
A big thank you to Jo for giving up her time to talk to us. If you would be interested in taking part in her research you can contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you would like to know more about how we are celebrating Pride please visit our Pride webpage. And if you have your own stories to share about Pride or being part of the LGBTQ+ community please get in touch: email@example.com.