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LAY ABSTRACT: The perspective of autistic individuals is often left uncaptured, and as a result they are often excluded from making decisions that impact them. Conventional communication can be challenging for many autistic individuals, especially those who are minimally verbal or who have an associated intellectual disability. Currently, a lack of appropriate methods to capture voices across the spectrum is a barrier. In the present study, we developed the Autism Voices protocol using universal design principles to capture the perspectives and experiences of autistic youth with a range of language or intellectual abilities. This protocol was then used with 33 autistic youth aged 11 to 18 years. A scoring rubric was developed to capture the unconventional communication used by the participants and the mitigation strategies used by interviewers to facilitate the interview. Many components of the protocol were found to effectively facilitate communication between the participant and interviewer, including the use of picture cards to support verbal questions/prompts, the fact that participants could respond with their preferred communication methods (writing, texting, pointing), and the fact that interviews were applied flexibly to adapt to each participant. Unconventional communication and mitigation strategies were mostly observed in interviews with minimally verbal individuals, but a fine-grained analysis showed participants were still communicating something through this unconventional communication. Our protocol could help promote the inclusion of more autistic individuals in research and showed that unconventional modes of communication like echolalia provide an understanding that participants' are invested in conversations and certain topics are more meaningful than others.

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adolescents, autism, first-person perspective, lived experience, qualitative research, semi-structured interview, strength-oriented method, universal design