Situated practice research offers rich possibilities for recognising and developing practitioner knowledge in social care. In this article, I document the application of anthropological methods and thinking within a research programme in autism services. Drawing on Donald Schön's model of the reflective practitioner, I argue that participant observation, aimed at the holistic documentation of autism services, provides a means to systematic reflection, comparison and learning in order to inform practice. This approach stands to broaden the field of autism research from unidirectional models of knowledge ‘translation’ to include research and insights generated from services. I also advocate the relational nature of anthropology as a means to meaningfully engage autistic people with intellectual disabilities in research through collaboration with practitioner researchers.