LAY ABSTRACT: Currently, our understanding of the adolescent period for autistic youth has relied on the expertise of researchers, clinicians, parents, and teachers, yet rarely involves their unique first-person experiences. Our study attempted to understand the experiences and perspectives of autistic adolescents in their home, school, and community environments using the Autism Voices protocol, a semi-structured interview specifically designed and tailored to engage with autistic youth with various language and intellectual levels. The analysis of the 31 interviews conducted with autistic adolescents aged 11-18 years highlighted six themes: (1) autistic identities, (2) thinking about the future, (3) seeking social connection on their own terms, (4) seeking autonomy, (5) school as both a stressor and social facilitator, and (6) experiences of stress and anxiety. These results highlight similarities and differences in the adolescent experiences of autistic youth compared to their typically developing peers. Our findings suggest that by removing assumptions about the experiences of autistic individuals and investing in inclusive interview methods, we can faithfully capture the experiences of autistic youth regardless of their communication and cognitive abilities. Being able to capture and amplify these diverse voices will facilitate the active involvement of autistic communities in research and clinical and policy decisions that impact them.
adolescence, first-person perspective, inclusive methods, qualitative research, strength-based