A socio-political approach on autistic students’ sense of belonging in higher education

Henri V. Pesonen*, Juuso Henrik Nieminen, Jonathan Vincent, Mitzi Waltz, Minja Lahdelma, Elena V. Syurina, Marc Fabri

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Although an unprecedented number of autistic students are entering higher education, research focusing on their sense of belonging is scarce. Autistic students’ sense of belonging can be jeopardized due to the students’ encounters with a network of social expectations, activities, responses and biased attitudes. Using a participatory approach, our objective was to examine autistic university students’ perceptions about their sense of belonging whilst at university. The study involved semi-structured interviews with 12 autistic university students and graduates from the Netherlands. Data were analysed using theory-guided content analysis and elaborative coding approaches. Findings indicate that autistic students’ sense of belonging is multi-dimensional, fluid, and located within affective, spatial, temporal, social and political contexts. Our findings offer a novel and theoretically robust framework to conceptualise and further understand the sense of belonging. Important practical implications are also given.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)739-757
Number of pages19
JournalTeaching in Higher Education
Issue number4
Early online date1 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Autism
  • autistic student
  • inclusion
  • sense of belonging
  • university


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