Friday, 21 December 2018

Knowledge, attitude and stigma in relation to autism

A mash-up post for you today, as two papers are brought to the blogging table. The first paper by Sheri Stronach and colleagues [1] set out to "explore autism understanding and stigma among university students, and general community members recruited at a state fair." The second paper by Eilidh Cage and colleagues [2] wanted to examine "knowledge, openness and dehumanising attitudes of non-autistic people towards autistic people." Although the language used in the two papers is slightly different (i.e. 'dehumanising attitudes') the goals were pretty much the same: how much does the general public understand about autism and what are the perceptions of the label?

Stronach et al reported results based on the completion of the Autism Stigma and Knowledge Questionnaire (ASK-Q) by almost 500 people. Their combined results suggested that their cohort showed: "relatively high levels of autism knowledge and low levels of stigma." Ergo, awareness of autism seemed to be quite good and people were generally very accepting of autistic people.

Cage et al reported results based on a slightly smaller sample, albeit including over 350 participants. We are told that participants "completed a survey measuring autism openness, knowledge and experience, along with a measure of dehumanisation." Their results indicated that "knowledge of autism was comparable to past research" and that "females were more open towards autism." But things were not completely rosy in the Cage study as researchers found evidence for "dehumanisation, with a particular denial of 'human uniqueness' traits." Ergo, autism awareness is again pretty good, but more needs to be done in this area.

Minus any sweeping generalisations and judgements from little ole' me, I think it's important to frame some of this work in the context of other work from some of the authors on the topic of autism. I speak particularly of the Cage results, and how elements of this authorship group have previously expressed an 'inclination' to the whole social model of disability (see here) as being relevant to autism based on their other work [3]. The social model of disability by the way, opines that "people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference." Of course there is some truth in this idea as there are in many theories/hypotheses. The problem is however, when one assumes that society is the only barrier, and then potentially becomes blinded to the very real disability that a label is described and defined by. The fact also that the social model of disability is put forward as a counter to the medical model of disability is also a little unhelpful, and perhaps encourages some 'either or' thinking rather than looking at a potential mixture of influences and effects.

The comment about a 'denial of 'human uniqueness' traits' mentioned in the Cage study is also pertinent to other discussions/arguments in the context of autism. I speak about the term 'neurodiversity' which is often used to denote "a notion of neurological difference across humanity akin to the variation we see in plants and animals in biodiversity" and how such a term has grown in popularity over the years. One might see the Cage results as perhaps providing evidence that the notion of neurological diversity still has some way to go when it comes to the inclusion of autism under the heading, and indeed, making more progress towards illustrating just how heterogeneous the autism spectrum really is.

And finally, without trying to get too immersed in the implications of the Cage results in particular, that mention of 'human uniqueness' could also be viewed as another nail in the coffin for a problematic term used in some autism circles: neurotypical. And how, with all the complexity of the human brain and/or central nervous system, the term neurotypical is a still, very much, a scientific nonsense (see here)...


[1] Stronach S. et al. Brief Report: Autism Knowledge and Stigma in University and Community Samples. J Autism Dev Disord. 2018 Nov 21.

[2] Cage E. et al. Understanding, attitudes and dehumanisation towards autistic people. Autism. 2018 Nov 21:1362361318811290.

[3] Cage E. et al. Experiences of Autism Acceptance and Mental Health in Autistic Adults. J Autism Dev Disord. 2018 Feb;48(2):473-484.


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