Saturday, 24 June 2017

Autism awareness among the young is actually quite good

The message of 'increasing awareness of autism' is still a strong one in modern times despite the label of autism officially entering medical texts some 80+ years ago. We have a World Autism Awareness Week and a World Autism Awareness Day and lots more in-between to raise awareness of autism and what the label [differentially] means to many, many people.

The findings reported by Karola Dillenburger and colleagues [1] seem to suggest that, particularly among children and young adults, the autism awareness message is getting through as they observed: "Children and young people have good levels of awareness and knowledge about autism and reported positive attitudes towards peers with autism." Even further: "A higher than expected number of children and young people self-reported being on the autism spectrum."

Based on analysis of "two large-scale surveys: the Kids Life and Times survey for 11-year olds and the Young Life and Times survey for 16-year olds" yielding some 3300 children and young adults, researchers posed various questions including those pertinent to autism awareness. The results suggested that some 80% of teenagers had some knowledge about autism compared with about 50% of younger children. Most participants held positive attitudes towards autism including recognition that bullying is an issue that some on the autism spectrum are particularly at risk of. Further: "Self-reported prevalence of autism was 3.1% for teenagers and 2.7% for the younger children." That last point was based on the study population being based in Northern Ireland (which interestingly, has recently reported a rather large upswing in the number of formally-diagnosed cases of autism too).

These are rather positive results insofar as the recognition of autism and indeed, how common it is in modern times. It is perhaps not unexpected that some of these authors have some research form in this area [2]. The authors frame the result in terms of boding well for "peer-mediated support strategies for inclusive education" but I think they go much further than that. Assuming that awareness covers the entire spectrum of autism (see here) and not just a part/branch of it, I'd like to think these findings go some way to supporting efforts to 'make autism more visible' and onward, ensuring that the wants and needs of those on the spectrum are more readily expressed and addressed. Media and culture probably has a lot to do with such findings (see here for example) but the fact that many classrooms and schools do now cater for students on the autism spectrum no doubt played an important role in these findings.

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[1] Dillenburger K. et al. Autism awareness in children and young people: surveys of two populations. J Intellect Disabil Res. 2017 Jun 7.

[2] Dillenburger K. et al. Creating an Inclusive Society… How Close are We in Relation to Autism Spectrum Disorder? A General Population Survey. J Appl Res Intellect Disabil. 2015 Jul;28(4):330-40.

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