I came here to learn about autistic communication, what I got was a lesson in loneliness and how that might be overcome

Gemma Williams

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


It is well known that autism has long been associated with impaired communication and difficulties with social interaction. Building on recent work in the social sciences, this PhD research project sought to investigate how a framing of these difficulties as a problem of mutual mis-understanding (referred to as the ‘double empathy problem’) might be explained from the perspective of cognitive linguistics.

In order to do this, it was necessary to obtain naturalistic conversation data for analysis and it was deemed a priority to ensure that the experience of those individuals participating in the conversations was intrinsically valuable. The ‘Talking Together’ community engagement project was thus borne, bringing together pairs of autistic and non-autistic strangers to (a) talk about their experiences of loneliness in their local city and (b) think about potential responses to the problem.

What developed was a project that not only generated 240 minutes of linguistic data, but also rich qualitative data around the topic of loneliness and autism. More than that, it created an opportunity for moving personal connections to be made in the moment, and a chance for people to have their voices heard twice: by the researcher, but also by a fellow human conversation partner.
With hindsight it is perhaps obvious how loneliness and communication difficulties may be related and to see how findings from each angle might augment the other. In allowing the project to grow organically, drawing from multiple disciplines, the project became multiply valuable, above all for the participants.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2020
EventAutistica Research Festival : Medical Humanities Panel - Online (due to Covid-19), United Kingdom
Duration: 3 Jun 202110 Jun 2021


ConferenceAutistica Research Festival
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • medical humanities
  • Autism Spectrum Conditions
  • loneliness


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