The experiences of young autistic adults in using metropolitan public transport

Published February 2020

For young autistic adults, accessing educational, employment and leisure activities is vital to gaining financial and social independence, and they often rely on public transport to travel to these activities. However, many of the tasks and experiences inherent in undertaking independent public transport travel can pose challenges for autistic people, potentially limiting their access to opportunities to learn, work and socialise, thus impacting their well-being. This paper reports on the findings of a qualitative study to explore the experience of young autistic adults in undertaking independent public transport travel in a large metropolitan city and the key issues they face in doing so.

Personal, phone and email interviews and a focus group gathered descriptive information from 14 young autistic adults. Analysis applied constant comparative techniques to inductively and deductively identify key themes from the data.

Analysis produced four themes:

  1. Anxiety and the Need for Certainty
  2. a Spectrum of Confidence
  3. a Preference for Independence and Self-Reliance;
  4. Strategies for Managing.

Findings indicated that a triad of factors makes the use of public transport in a metropolitan city stressful for young autistic adults:

  1. their propensity to be intolerant of uncertainty;
  2. the dominant role that anxiety plays;
  3. the impact of sensory processing, particularly the impact of crowding and associated tactile, auditory, and visual stimuli.

The findings points to the potential utility of a smart phone applications for young autistic adults with functionality and information that can help ameliorate anxiety, particularly during trip planning, service disruptions and other times of uncertainty.