Sunday 18 August 2019

Irish people are very positive towards those with autism, but know little of the condition - report

AsIAm chief executive Adam Harris. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
AsIAm chief executive Adam Harris. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Irish people show strong positive support for autistic people in schools, employment and society generally- but admit their level of knowledge of the condition is inadequate, according to new research being published today.

The research results were published this morning by the autism advocacy group AsIAm at an event to mark World Autism Day.  The survey was carried out nationwide last month among a representative sample of 1000 adults.

Irish people strongly support the education of autistic people in mainstream schools, reflecting the societal trend towards maximum integration.

61pc of people believe mainstream schools should be responsible for the education of autistic people, with this figure rising to 71pc among those aged 18-25.

“This shows a welcome tendency towards inclusion”, according to Adam Harris, CEO of AsIAm.  “While some autistic children currently benefit from special schools, there is a growing trend towards educating autistic children in mainstream schools, sometimes in special classes within those schools.

"However there is still a significant minority of people who do not believe mainstream schools are responsible for supporting autistic students. This requires further work in light of Ireland’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.”

While only 40pc believe they have a quite good or very good understanding of autism, many attitudes towards autistic people are quite positive. The survey shows a greater awareness and acceptance of autistic people among younger people.

Younger people are more likely to believe they have a good understanding, and they are also more likely to be aware of having an autistic person among their friends.  25pc of all people say there is an autistic person among their friends, but this rises to 33pc within the 18-25 age group.

Half of working adults feel that autistic people could work in a job like theirs, with this proportion being higher among those over 35.  There is significant variance of perception between people working in different sectors, with around three in five of those working in professional services, the public sector and wholesale feeling that an autistic person could work in their job, with just two in five of those in finance and manufacturing believing this.

Just 5pc of people say they do not think autistic people could get married and establish families, with 72pc believing they could and 23pc giving no opinion. Finally there is a majority view that media representation of autism is inauthentic, with 37pc believing it to be quite or very inauthentic, and 25pc believing it is quite or very authentic.

According to Adam Harris: “The critical finding of this survey is the gap between public support for inclusion and reality. Despite positive public sentiment, over 85pc of autistic people are under or unemployed, autistic people are up to 9 times more likely to die by suicide. Social isolation, particularly among autistic adults, remains a norm.”

The people’s attitudes are ahead of the Government’s efforts to include autistic people. For over 5 years Government have allowed successive Autism Bills and proposed strategies to languish on the floor of the Oireachtas whilst at the same time assuring the community of its support, he added.

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