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Awareness and Acceptance are the weapons to fight social exclusion of autistic adolescents – Study

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A recent study by the researchers at the University of Texas has found that reducing societal biases and promoting awareness and acceptance of the condition among people may increase social inclusion.

In their bid to improve the social inclusion of autistic adolescents, the psychology researchers at the University of Texas are developing a unique approach. The aim is to ensure social success by increasing the inclusiveness of adults with autism, by promoting understanding of the disease among non-autistic people, resulting in an increased acceptance of the same.

Autism is a developmental disorder marked by differences in thinking, sensing, and communicating leading to an increased difficulty in interacting with non-autistic people. 

The study has shown that educating non-autistic people with the strengths and challenges of those having autism, helped in developing a sense of awareness and acceptance among society at large, reducing the stigma and widely prevalent misconceptions. However, biases about autism were further challenging.

In the study, 238 participants (non-autistic adolescents) were divided into three groups. The first group was shown the video that stated facts about autism and promoted acceptance of the same. The second group viewed a general mental health presentation that had no mention of autism. While the third group did not receive any training. The participants were then tested on the parameters of implicit and explicit biases about autism. The group that was given training on acceptance of autism showed a greater level of understanding and had developed higher acceptance.

Dr Noah Season, who is an associate professor of psychology, and the senior author of the study explained explicit biases as biases that are consciously held, that evolve quickly, and are restricted by social desirability. Implicit biases, on the other hand, are explained as those showing a long-lasting set of underlying beliefs (preconceived notions) and are more resistant or reluctant to change. It is also observed that many times the media plays a role in negative reinforcement of the obstinate stereotypes.

Co-author of the study Desiree Jones, who is a psychology doctoral student at the School of Behavior and Brain Sciences (BBS) said, “Previous work in our lab has shown that autistic people are often stereotyped as awkward and less likeable. Some might think that autistic people don’t want friends or don’t want to interact with people.  We want to combat those ideas.”

Jones also pointed out that Autistic people often undergo the feeling of exclusion. They feel neglected or not being listened to. She also highlighted the existence of a variation in the autistic community, and that there are huge differences in their individual needs, challenges, and strengths.

Very interestingly in words of Jones: “There’s a saying that if you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.”

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