Understanding loneliness and social relationships in autism: The reflections of autistic adults

Mette Elmose*

*Corresponding author for this work

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The prevalence of loneliness is reported higher for autistic children, adolescents, and adults when compared to non-autistic peers. However, how autistic adults understand loneliness is still unclear. The present study aimed to explore how autistic adults understand the concept of loneliness combining focus groups and individual interviews to engage autistic adults in a shared exploration of the concept of loneliness. Information from 7 females and 18 males (age 18–71 years) was included. Data were analysed using a phenomenological-based thematic analysis. Through the analysis four themes were identified in the reflections of the autistic adults: Experience of Loneliness, Being Autistic, Discrepancies in Social Relationships, and Ease of Interaction. The immediate understanding of loneliness in autistic adults was found to be quite similar to that of persons without autism. However, being autistic was a central frame of reference for the autistic adults in describing the wishes and needs as well as the actual experience of social relationships. Being autistic in a primarily neurotypical society may be seen as a risk factor due to the discrepancies often experienced by autistic individuals in social relationships. Raising autism acceptance in general and supporting the understanding of self and others in autistic individuals is important to prevent the social discrepancies associated with the experience of loneliness.

Original languageEnglish
JournalNordic Psychology
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)3-22
Publication statusPublished - 2. Jan 2020


  • adults
  • autism
  • loneliness
  • social relationships


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