Date of Award

Spring 2017

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Katherine Dunham

Second Advisor

Laci Charette

Third Advisor

Patricia Egan

Abstract

The present study explored the intended reactions to a hypothetical character with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and the effect of several variables on those intended reactions, using a convenience sample of 172 introductory psychology college students. Preliminary analyses of the results were concerning regarding the low recognition of this disorder, and a high endorsement of myths, stigma, and social distance. We predicted that those who correctly identified ASD would state an intention to provide more supportive responses than those who failed to correctly identify the disorder as autism. Frequency counts, chi-squared analyses, and an independent t-test were used to summarize the participants’ intended responses to the character, assess the relation between categorical variables, and compare the means of continuous variables by each of the behaviors endorsed. Significantly more participants who correctly identified autism in the vignette said they would offer support to the character than if they did not correctly identify it as autism. Those who said they would provide general support had less personal stigma about the character and lower scores on the Autism Quotient. Participants who said they would do nothing in response had higher preferred social distance scores. No significant effects of participant gender and character gender were found. This research is important for the purposes of education of the public on autism spectrum disorders and how best to support such individuals, especially when transitioning to post-secondary education.

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