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Study Finds Understanding of Autism Can Boost Social Inclusion

Study Finds Understanding of Autism Can Boost Social Inclusion

A new study from researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas found that an increased understanding of autism can help improve social interactions amongst those on the spectrum.


Parents with children on the autism spectrum know how difficult it can sometimes be for their children to engage with their peers. As a result, many kids with autism are often enrolled in social skills programs and receive therapies that can help them successfully navigate personal relationships. But a new study from researchers at The University of Texas at Dallas has discovered that the key to improving social interactions for those on the spectrum could actually come down to promoting understanding and acceptance among people who are not on the spectrum.

“Targeting autistic behavior places the burden of social exclusion on autistic people, when we should really be challenging the attitudes that lead others to stigmatize autistic behaviors,” said Desiree Jones, a psychology doctoral student and the co-author of the paper. “Research on race suggests that people who have racial biases tend to view that race as a monolith, assigning every member the same features. By exposing them to different people from the group, you can challenge those stereotypes. We believe the same principle applies to autism.”

RELATED: 5 Stereotypes About Autism That Just Aren’t True

Research shows that adults who are not on the spectrum often hold explicit and implicit biases toward autism that contribute to personal and professional challenges for those who are on the spectrum. With that in mind, the study broke 238 non-autistic adults into three groups. One viewed an autism acceptance video which presented facts and promotes acceptance, as well as gave tips on how to befriend an individual with autism and talk to them about their interests. The second group watched a general mental health training presentation that didn’t mention autism, while the third received no training at all. Participants were then tested on their explicit and implicit biases about autism.



The findings, which were published in the journal Autism, found that the autism acceptance training group demonstrated greater understanding and acceptance of autism on the explicit measures, including expressing more social interest in adults on the spectrum. However, they still continued to associate autism with unpleasant personal attributes on an implicit level, which reflect more durable underlying beliefs that are more resistant to change.

Still, the researchers are optimistic about the results, adding that individuals with autism will play an important role in future studies and programs.

“Autistic people often feel that they simply aren’t listened to, that they are dismissed or not cared about,” Jones said. “A big part of being welcoming is simply acknowledging actual autistic people telling us what they like and what they want research to be. In our lab, we have several autistic master’s and undergraduate students who play a big role in our research, and they’ve taught me a lot.”

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Author: Linda DiProperzio has written extensively on parenting issues for Parents, American Baby, Parenting, and Family Circle, among others. She lives in New York with her husband and two sons. See More

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