Last month I took part in a “world autism views” survey by an organisation called “Relate to Autism”. I came across it randomly via a local online forum. As you can see from the discussion in that forum thread, we weren’t particularly impressed with the way the questions were worded or the options for answers. Still, I thought it might be interesting to see the results, which were sent to my inbox today.
The most interesting outcomes for me from the section about causes of autism, were that:
- Far more North Americans think autism is caused by “toxins”, than do people from the rest of the world.
- Autistic people are the strongest group against the notion that vaccines cause autism (parents and grandparents were most convinced vaccines cause autism – which is significant since parents make the vaccination decisions).
- I was happy to see that of those parents, NZ/Australia/Polynesia are least convinced that vaccines cause autism. Our region were also most likely to reply that autism is inherited to some degree.
The section about autism treatment, is largely useless (in my opinion) because (1) it didn’t specify what it meant by “cure”, “therapy” and “medical”; and (2) the answer options were particularly frustrating for this section since the answer for one autistic person would vary hugely from others, and it was hard to convey that difference in the options provided.
Something noteworthy from the section about whether autism is a gift or a tragedy: Significantly higher numbers of North Americans said “autism is a gift to humanity” was “definitely true.”
In the section about where autism research should focus, it was interesting that “North Americans and those in Australia / New Zealand do not think (on average) that research should focus on finding ways to make children with autism behave as other children do”.
On the whole, the efficacy of the survey was undercut by how they worded the questions and answers, but it did nevertheless churn out some interesting differences and talking points. It also makes it hard to take the survey seriously when their summary had some rather glaring proof-reading problems (which you will spot without too much trouble – a shame no one at their end did). It strikes me as somewhat a wasted opportunity to find out some interesting opinions from what was a reasonable sized sample of people. If they run the same exercise again, I hope they address these issues, so that successive years of the survey will also show trends changing (or not changing) as new autism research comes to light and new autism stories hit the media.