The lived experiences of relatives of autistic adults, and their perceptions of their relationships with autistic adults across multiple age-related transitions and demands: A qualitative interview study with reflexive thematic analysis

Jahnese Hamilton, Tracy Finch*, Ann Le Couteur, Joan Mackintosh, Alex Petrou, Deborah Garland, Jeremy R. Parr

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is a need to better understand autism across the life course, including the lives of both autistic people and supporting relatives. As part of a larger mixed methods cohort study involving autistic adults, carers and relatives this sub-study focused on the experiences of relatives alone to learn more about the lives of people from the wider personal networks. Our research questions were: 1. What are the experiences of family members who care for and/or support autistic adults, 2. How can the viewpoints of relatives add to what we know about transitions and challenges experienced by autistic adults, and 3. What strategies/support have been helpful for adults and relatives?

Relatives of autistic adults were purposively sampled and recruited using the Relatives/Carers cohort from the Adult Autism Spectrum Cohort—UK. 18 participants aged 31-81years who were related to 16 autistic adults aged 18-57years were interviewed for 24-91minutes. Interview transcripts were examined using reflexive thematic analysis.

Main findings
Two overarching themes were developed, ‘Family support goes a long way in caring for autistic adults’ and ‘When families turn to society for support’ with subthemes. Relatives described benefits they had gained and their admiration for autistic adults. They reflected on how they gave support for independence in various contexts of dependence. They also identified the challenges that both autistic adults and families face navigating support systems (for example for healthcare and employment). An important novel outcome was the advocated value of role-models with lived experience who come from outside of the family.

The findings lead to recommendations for: (i) Strategies to reduce the barriers for support that are faced by autistic individuals and relatives during crisis points; (ii) recognition and support for what enables both relatives and autistic adults to function independently (e.g. funded activities, flexible employment); (iii) future planning conversations to include relatives who can enhance knowledge and help plan for future care or support needs for autistic adults and (iv) opportunities for role models (persons with lived experience, autistic adults and relatives) to inspire others and disseminate knowledge.

These findings add valuable insights into the experiences of relatives of autistic adults and challenge the reader to have greater appreciation of the many roles relatives can contribute across time and in a variety of contexts. These perspectives add important information for those working with and planning provision for autistic adults.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0294232
Number of pages24
JournalPLoS One
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jan 2024

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