Tessa Smith, Psy.D., is a 2023 graduate of the Psy.D. Program in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University, New England

Dissertation Committee:

  • Martha Straus, PhD, Committee Chair
  • Gina Pasquale, PsyD, Committee Member
  • Rosalyn DeVincentis, PsyD, Committee Member


autism, resiliency, trauma, adverse childhood experiences, posttraumatic growth, neurodiversity, neurodivergence

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This qualitative dissertation investigates current research gaps regarding autistic individuals’ experience of trauma and resilience in the face of adversity. Specifically, it conceptualizes trauma and resilience through a neurodiverse lens, through identifying themes in memoirs written by five autistic authors related to trauma, potentially traumatic events, resiliency, and posttraumatic growth. Through Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis, I identified individual, interpersonal, and societal factors impacting the memoirists experiences of trauma, through the identification of 11 superordinate themes. Prominent themes at the individual level included self-acceptance and emotion regulation promoting resilience. At the contextual level, sensory processing and uncertainty coincided with experiences of trauma. At the interpersonal level, many memoirists describe interpersonal traumas, including mutual misunderstanding between themselves and others. Finally, at the societal level, themes across the memoirs point to the importance of mental health professional training and awareness regarding autism and expanding our understanding of traumatic experiences. Thus, I propose a sociocultural approach for conceptualizing how autism and trauma intersect. Based on this approach, I advocate for systemic-level changes, community, contextual, and individual interventions to support the resiliency of autistic individuals.


Tessa Smith

ORCID Scholar ID# 0009-0000-9052-0488