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“This was just how this friendship worked”

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Published on 22 August 2023

Dr Amy Pearson
Dr Amy Pearson

An article outlining the abuse autistic people have experienced at the hands of someone they know has led to a prestigious award for the psychologist behind the research. Dr Amy Pearson has won this year's Rosalind Franklin Society (RFS) Award in Science for her work published in the journal ‘Autism in Adulthood’. Amy, a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sunderland, is a co-author on “This Was Just How This Friendship Worked”: Experiences of Interpersonal Victimization Among Autistic Adults.

The Rosalind Franklin Society is an international society which recognises, fosters, and advances the important contributions of women in the life sciences and affiliated disciplines. The annual RFS Award in Science celebrates the outstanding research and published work of women and underrepresented minority scientists, physicians, and engineers. Amy’s current research focuses on understanding factors that impact on well-being among autistic people across the lifespan with a particular interest in interpersonal relationships and victimisation, social identity, and stigma.

She says: “I am delighted to have received this award. It is an honour to have my work recognised by the Rosalind Franklin Society, and to have the opportunity to draw attention to the scope of the harrowing abuse that autistic people experience throughout their lives.”

She added: “We think that many autistic people experience being hurt by people they know. This can include both physical harm such as hitting, and emotional harm such as being called horrible things. We currently know very little about these experiences, even though we think it happens a lot.

“The purpose of this study was to find out more about the experiences of autistic people who have been hurt by someone they know, from their own point of view.”

Amy and her co-authors recruited 43 autistic adults to take part in a qualitative online study, and asked about their experiences of being victimized or taken advantage of by people they know in the past and their comments analysed.

The findings suggest that autistic adults experience victimisation from a range of close others, and may find it difficult to recognise when someone is acting in an abusive manner. Many participants had experienced heightened compliance in response to unreasonable requests from others, however, reasons for this were varied (e.g.fear and desire to avoid confrontation) and require further investigation.

These findings have implications for developing supports that enable autistic adults to recognise their own boundaries and advocate for themselves, in addition to helping them to recognise what a healthy relationship looks like.

To read the article click here