A YouGov poll commissioned by Autistica has revealed a huge lack of understanding about autism across the UK. For example, nearly 30% of adults in Britain are unsure whether autism can be cured and over a third (35%) still believe it to be a learning disability.

It is these misconceptions that create the negative attitudes autistic people face in their everyday lives. The lack of understanding of autism makes the difficulties autistic people face worse. It leads to autistic people across society being left out.

As the autism community fights to change these perceptions, at Autistica we want to be able to see how our work together creates impact. That's why we are developing the Autistica Autism Attitudes Index, an innovative approach to measuring the UK population’s general perceptions, beliefs and behaviours towards autism and autistic people, and tracking changes in these attitudes over time.

The Attitudes Index will help to guide Autistica and other organisations’ work towards changing those attitudes. The work supports our 2030 Goal to change public attitudes to autism and autistic people

The Autistica Autism Attitudes Index is a unique project when it comes to fully uncovering and understanding the public’s views and beliefs about autism.

James Cusack, Autistica CEO

“The negative attitudes I've witnessed are people just saying I have no empathy or if you’re trying to educate someone then replying with ‘everyone’s autistic’, which is odd,” said Alexander Blake, an autism support worker who is autistic himself, “We're all different, aren't we? My way of showing empathy can be different to how my girlfriend will show empathy. It's just understanding that. Just being open-minded and understanding that autistic thought processes are different to neurotypical.”

Lacking empathy is something that autistic people are frequently accused of. The poll results show that 39% of people believe autistic people lack empathy. And in fact more than 2 in 5 adults in Great Britain (46%) think “we are all somewhere on the autism spectrum”. This echoes another of the issues that Alexander talked about. It minimises the struggles autistic people face every day.

Our chief executive, James Cusack, said “Throughout my life I have received many remarks about being autistic. People are often surprised that I can do things like driving a car, living on my own and even being married. My experiences, which are far from unique, clearly show that awareness isn’t enough. As a society we need to learn and grasp what the world is like for autistic people. Only when we make an effort to properly understand can we truly create an equal society for all.

“The Autistica Autism Attitudes Index is a unique project when it comes to fully uncovering and understanding the public’s views and beliefs about autism. We will work closely with autistic people and their families to understand the negative attitudes they experience in their everyday lives and collaborate with world-leading researchers to create a series of fixed questions that sensitively measure and track changes year to year.”