“It Helps Make the Fuzzy Go Away”: Autistic Adults' Perspectives on Nature's Relationship with Well-being Through the Life Course

Samantha Friedman, Roan Noble, Stephanie Archer, Jenny Gibson, Claire H. Hughes

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Background: While previous work highlights the links between nature and various positive well-being-related outcomes, the experiences of autistic people in nature have received limited empirical research. Our study aimed at gathering autistic adults' perspectives on the relationship between nature and well-being in both childhood and adulthood.

Methods: We used an online survey to capture the views of 127 autistic adults across the United Kingdom. Using reflexive thematic analysis, we analyzed responses to three questions focused on nature experiences in childhood and adulthood and how the participants felt that nature was (or was not) related to well-being. Guided by self-determination theory, we used both inductive and deductive analysis.

Results: We developed three main themes to reflect the nature experiences of autistic adults: choosing to escape into nature, supporting relatedness through connecting in (and to) nature, and nature doesn't judge, but other people do. Compared with many other contexts, nature provides a non-judgmental space through which (in both childhood and adulthood) many, but not all, autistic individuals can meet individual needs and experience autonomy, relatedness, and competence.

Conclusion: This analysis of how autistic adults in the United Kingdom utilize nature to support well-being has implications for how nature can be used in social prescribing as well as in ensuring that existing outdoor spaces, organizations, and activities are supportive of autistic people.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAutism in Adulthood
Early online date8 Sept 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Sept 2023

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