Traversing the community is uncertain, socially complex and exhausting: Autistic youth describe experiences of travelling to participate in their communities

Published August 2020



Autistic youth often have difficulty with community mobility, such as driving, public transport and moving around their communities. Dependence on others may result in reduced community participation, work, training and social opportunities.


This study used focused ethnography to explore autistic youths' experiences of moving around in their communities. Eight youth from rural and urban Eastern Australia participated in interviews and community excursions. Data were analyzed using Grounded Theory.


The key construct identified was autistic youth needing to find a sustainable equilibrium for energy depleting community participation and mobility. Equilibrium comprised of a balance of being at home, where youth could be themselves and recharge; versus going into uncertain, socially complex, exhausting community spaces. To function, youth developed a personal armor consisting of practice, planning and protection strategies; and required a suite of foundation skills developed primarily with family support. Youth identified childhood bullying increased feelings of vulnerability. These influences intersected to shape preferences for home-based activities, subsequently, decreasing community mobility and participation.


This study indicates traversing community spaces requires strategies to balance energy, to overcome previous bullying experiences, and to deal with uncertainty. These skills can be developed with practitioners focusing on harnessing motivations to engage in meaningful community activities, refining community communication skills, managing social and safety aspects of community mobility, including increasing awareness of childhood bullying and its impact on confidence. Increased training for community and transit authorities could assist with youths’ confidence in community safety, including awareness of communication differences and how to help youth in difficult community situations. A broader focus, including autistic perspectives, is necessary in transport policy and research.

Kersten, M., Coxon, K., Lee, H. & Wilson, N.J. (2020). Traversing the community is uncertain, socially complex and exhausting: Autistic youths’ experiences of travelling to participate in their communities. Journal of Transport and Health, 18, 100922. doi: 10.1016/j.jth.2020.100922

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