The lived experiences of autistic adults as novice martial artists
: A hermeneutic phenomenological approach to a reflexive thematic analysis

  • Brian McCann

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education


    The study investigates the lived experiences of autistic adults as novice martial artists. It is an original and significant contribution to knowledge in its presentation and analysis of evidence of an extreme openness to experience and a longing to belong within an environment of mindful interaction. It problematizes the medical view of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) as a psychopathology that tends to regard autistic individuals as eschewing contingency. This study responds to a gap in the literature, which hitherto has been mainly quantitative. The four participants were between eighteen and sixty-five and declared themselves as autistic. The research combined the methodology of Thematic Analysis with the efficacy of hermeneutics phenomenology. The sample engaged in an adapted Aikido course taught by officially registered black belt instructors within a formal dojo setting and the participants logged their experiences in a journal. Videos and photos were shot in the classes and used for elicitation in the semi-structured, sound-recorded interviews. Two phases of interviews followed the course, Phase One and Phase Two. Phase Two followed four to six months after Phase One to register any longitudinal affective changes and durational memories. The researcher personally transcribed over sixty-six thousand words of interview data. Phase One revealed superordinate themes across the four transcripts revealing issues of fear, bullying, threat, protection, anxiety, comfort and safety. Phase Two evinced a significant longitudinal impact on the life-worlds of the participants, ranging from a newly acquired interactive life-world structure to an augmented peace of mind. Findings indicated modes of experience as interactive and mindful. The study is an original contribution to the current wave of advocacy for the autistic nation and could encourage and support further qualitative research. Pragmatically, through publication, it may offer a newfound global inspiration to autistic adult martial arts students, to instructors with autistic adults in their classes and more broadly, to the health care system.
    Date of Award2021
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorBeth Hannah (Supervisor) & Ann Swinney (Supervisor)

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