A new YouGov poll of 2,159 UK adults, commissioned by the National Autistic Society (NAS), reveals that over 99% of people have heard of autism and 44% know someone who has the condition.
In contrast, a 2005 survey of 1,000 adults in Britain by nfpSynergy showed that 91% of people had heard of autism and 33% knew someone who has the condition. This means that there has been a 9% increase in the number of people who’ve heard of autism in the past 10 years.
But the poll suggests that this hasn’t led to widespread understanding of autism and that people with the condition are still locked out of society. Despite previous NAS research showing that the vast majority of people with autism want to have friends and to be in employment, just 4% of those surveyed by YouGov said they had a friend with autism and only 3% said they had a colleague or classmate with the condition.
This reality conflicts with the more positive and supportive attitudes the poll suggests people have of autism:
- Less than 1% think that people with autism can't work, yet separate NAS research shows that just 15% of adults with autism are in full-time paid employment.
- 31% said they would try to find out more about autism if their colleague had the condition, while 55% said they'd be supportive and 16% said they would expect to receive training from their employer.
- 49% said they would be supportive of a friend's child diagnosed with autism, though 30% would be anxious for their future
The poll also sheds light on how people first heard of autism, suggesting that the media has a significant role in shaping perceptions of the condition. More than a quarter of adults (27%) said they first heard of autism by knowing, or knowing of, someone with the condition. 19% said they first heard of autism through a documentary, fictional TV programme, film or book and 14% said they first heard of autism by word of mouth.
The NAS says there’s still a long way to go before autism is understood by society and people with the lifelong condition are fully integrated into communities and able to live the life they choose.