Irish people show strong positive support for autistic people in schools, employment and society generally but concede that their level of knowledge of the condition is inadequate, according to new research commissioned by AsIAm for World Autism Month 2019.
The survey was carried out nationwide last month by Coyne Research among a representative sample of 1,000 adults.
Irish people strongly support the education of autistic people in mainstream schools, reflecting the societal trend towards maximum integration. 61% of people believe mainstream schools should be responsible for the education of autistic people, with this figure rising to 71% 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 (UNCRPD).”
While only 40% 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. 25% of all people say there is an autistic person among their friends, but this rises to 33% 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 5% of people say they do not think autistic people could get married and establish families, with 72% believing they could and 23% giving no opinion. Finally there is a majority view that media representation of autism is inauthentic, with 37% believing it to be quite or very inauthentic, and 25% 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 85% 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 five years, the 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.
“On World Autism Day, we are urging the Government to support Sinn Féin’s Private Member’s Motion to be debated in the Dáil this week on the creation of an All-Party Oireachtas Committee to deliver an Autism Strategy within six months. Furthermore, we are calling on the Government to urgently put in place the supports required to enable autistic people to access the workplace and live happy lives in their local communities – this requires investment in further and higher education supports, access to key workers for autistic adults and concerted efforts to educate frontline education, health and social service officials about autism.”
Notes to Editor –
AsIAm is Ireland’s largest autism charity. Founded in 2014, we aim to bring about an inclusive, autism-friendly Ireland. We run a range of programmes aimed at supporting autistic people and our families and also engage with all sectors of society to support them in becoming more autism-friendly.
Autism is a lifelong developmental condition which relates to how a person communicates and interacts with others and how they experience the world around them. One in 65 school pupils in Ireland have a diagnosis of autism.