Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) as a tool for participatory research within Critical Autism Studies: a systematic review

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Purpose: Interpretative phenomenological analysis is distinctive in foregrounding participants’ interpretations. As such, it is potentially useful for gaining an insight into the lived experience of autistic individuals and aligns well with participatory approaches. This paper provides the first systematic review of IPA studies that have employed a participatory approach and considers their contribution to Critical Autism Studies.

Method: Four electronic databases were searched to identify peer-reviewed empirical research articles which employed a participatory IPA approach to consult with autistic individuals. Thirteen studies from four countries, published 2008–2018, met the inclusion criteria. These were examined to identify details of the methodology, findings and recommendations in order to consider each in relation to the underpinning philosophies of IPA and participatory research respectively, and their relationship to the stated aims of Critical Autism Studies.

Results: A range of participatory approaches were employed and their use extended the depth and validity of findings. There was evidence of disruption to power relations in process and outcomes. Making sense of the autism diagnosis was a frequent point of discussion, even when this was not the focus of the study, and across studies, strong commonalities emerged, capturing a multi-dimensionality of ‘autistic identities’.

Conclusion: This review provides evidence of the usefulness of IPA as a research approach to consult with autistic individuals. It lends itself to a range of participatory techniques and there is scope for these to be used with diverse autistic populations, in order to extend the opportunities for autistic individuals to be represented, and represent themselves, within autism research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-62
Number of pages14
JournalResearch in Autism Spectrum Disorders
Early online date24 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019


  • Autism
  • Critical autism studies
  • Interpretative phenomenological analysis
  • Participatory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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