April is world autism awareness month, established in 2008 by the United Nations (UN) to enhance mindfulness of the lifelong developmental condition globally. There are also calls in the US for a federal designation to autism acceptance instead of awareness. Increasing public awareness and acceptance of the condition not only boosts enthusiasm and support, but also fosters mobilization of resources and social inclusion for people with autism.
The Impact Of Disabilities
Physical and mental disabilities can result in additional conditions. For example, children with cerebral palsy are more susceptible to hearing loss than other kids. Being unable to hear affects language development and social interactions. Without treatment, those with a hearing disability are likely to experience low levels of social inclusion.
People with impairments may also lack independence, preventing them to live full lives because they are dependent on others for their mobility and day-to-day activities. They might need help with dressing up or feeding, for example. Moreover, discrimination against people with a disability also hinders them from gaining access to economic, financial and educational opportunities. As a result, they may feel depressed and socially isolated as well.
Autism is different, however. While some individuals with autism may not be independent and may have overlapping conditions, many are able to live full and independent lives. However, people with autism often operate differently in social situations, and a lack of understanding from their non-autistic peers makes it more difficult for them to find acceptance in society.
Promoting Social Inclusion
According to the study conducted by psychology researchers at the University of Texas, Dallas, explaining to non-autistic people about the challenges faced by individuals with autism helps lower stigma and misunderstanding. However, hidden biases are often harder to overcome. The co-author of the study, Desiree Jones, said that individuals with autism are often labeled as ‘awkward and less likeable.’ People might believe that they do not want to interact with others or even want friends: better education can help to combat this.
The study aims to debunk these ideas, theorizing that promoting knowledge about autism can improve acceptance of people with the condition. In their experiment, the researchers divided non-autistic individuals into three groups. The first group watched an autism acceptance video, the second group was exposed to a general mental health training presentation, and the last group received no training at all. The results revealed that the first group had a greater understanding and acceptance of autism, stating more explicit social interest in adults with the condition and a positive first impression. However, how long the effects last is unclear.
Enhancing awareness and knowledge about autism in non-autistic individuals assists in correcting misconceptions. With fewer misunderstandings, people express more interest in engaging with those affected by autism, ultimately improving social inclusion.