Public Perception of Autism - Determinants of attitudes towards adults and children with ASD and their intention to volunteer
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Autistic spectrum disorder is a common developmental disorder. However, adults and children with autism are often subject to stigma. The present study sought to measure the public’s attitude towards individuals with autism, in particular whether age, awareness of an individual’s diagnosis, knowledge of autism and participants’ personal autistic traits affected emotional attitudes towards autistic individuals. We assessed the effect of exposure to autism on knowledge of the condition and evaluated the effects of participants’ emotional responses and knowledge of autism on intention to volunteer with individuals with autistic spectrum disorder. Furthermore, we hoped to expand on the limited literature available on studies of adults with autism, the vast majority describe populations of autistic children. Participants were tested using an online questionnaire, which measured attitudes towards video clips of an adult and two children displaying autistic behaviours. Participants scored higher emotional attitudes towards adults, rather than children. Sympathy ratings and desire to help differed in response to the age of the autistic individual. Furthermore, disclosing or concealing the diagnosis did not affect emotional attitudes. Participants’ personal autistic traits affect their emotional responses towards the individual in the clip. Intent to volunteer was predicted by emotions and knowledge. However, while knowledge was enhanced by exposure to autism it failed to predict intent to volunteer. Adults and children with autism are perceived differently by the public, as behavioural expectations differ with age. Educating the public by altering their emotional response may be an effective tool for reducing stigma associated with the developmental disorder.