Britons show huge lack of knowledge and misconceptions about autism

Autistica, a research charity has announced it is developing the Autistica Autism Attitudes Index, in a bid to change public perceptions of autism and autistic people. 

The charity has commissioned a survey which revealed that nearly 30 per cent of people in Britain are unsure whether autism can be cured and over a third believe it is a learning disability. 

It also found nearly half of adults think “we are all somewhere on the autism spectrum” and 39 per cent believe autistic people lack empathy, a common myth that often means autistic people are left out of social relationships.

We need to 'learn what the world is like for autistic people'

Autistica’s Dr James Cusack, the only openly autistic chief executive of a major national charity said: “These findings reveal a huge lack of knowledge about autism across the UK and clearly show that awareness isn’t enough. As a society we need to learn and grasp what the world is like for autistic people. Only when we make an effort to properly understand can we truly create an equal society for all.” 

He added: “Throughout my life I have received many remarks about being autistic. People are often surprised that I can do things like driving a car, living on my own and even being married. I’ve even had it suggested that having children as an autistic person isn’t fair on them. 

“The Autism Attitudes Index is a unique project when it comes to fully uncovering and understanding the public’s views and beliefs about autism. We will work closely with autistic people and their families to understand the negative attitudes they experience in their everyday lives and collaborate with world-leading researchers to create a series of fixed questions that sensitively measure and track changes year to year.” 

The charity believes the misconceptions uncovered by the survey create and sustain many of the negative attitudes autistic people face in their everyday lives.

Lack of understanding exacerbates difficulties faced by autistic people

The lack of a widespread understanding of autism makes the difficulties autistic people face worse and leads to further exclusion of autistic people across society, it says. 

Around one million people in the UK are autistic, although not all have received official diagnoses. Autism affects the way people communicate and experience the world and every autistic person is different. 

Some autistic people can live and work on their own without the need for support, whilst others may have intellectual disabilities and other co-occurring conditions that need different levels of care and support in everyday life. There is no single ‘cause’ or genetic factor that leads to autism. Autistic characteristics can present in early childhood or in transitions during childhood and adolescence. 

However, many people only receive diagnosis in adulthood. This can be because they have mastered the art of ‘masking’ autistic traits and behaviours to fit into a neurotypical (non-autistic) world. 

According to Autistica, there are too few diagnostic services for autistic adults, with unacceptably long waiting lists, and a general lack of appropriate post-diagnostic support. 

Alexander Blake, an autism support worker who is autistic himself, said: “The negative attitudes I've witnessed are people just saying I have no empathy or if you’re trying to educate someone then replying with sort of ‘everyone’s autistic’, which is odd. 

“We're all different, aren't we? My way of showing empathy can be different to how my girlfriend will show empathy. It's just understanding that, just being open-minded and understanding that autistic thought processes are different to neurotypical.”