Thursday, 31 May 2018

Autistic people's perspectives on stereotypes


Summary of our new research paper, published in Autism

Stereotypes are society’s beliefs about group members. People often use stereotypes to inform the impressions they make of others. In this study we asked autistic people how they think they are perceived by others and what they think the autistic stereotypes are. It is important to know how autistic people think that they are perceived by others as this helps us to understand the nature of autistic people’s experiences. To do this we interviewed twelve autistic adults and analysed the data using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). IPA is an approach that enabled the researchers to find out about and understand autistic people’s lived experiences. Three main themes emerged from the analysis of the interviews. These were: (1) The primary stereotype is that autistic people are ‘weird’, (2) Autistic stereotypes have negative effects and consequences and (3) Autistic people are heterogeneous.  
Our findings indicate that negative perceptions of autistic people may lead to negative, prejudiced, behaviour if these negative perceptions are not challenged. One participant expressed frustration with how restrictive stereotypes can be, in that if autistic people behave in a manner that is considered to be counter-stereotypic, then they may not be considered autistic at all. Our study highlights that if autistic people were to internalise the negative stereotypes of autism they perceive, or believe them to be true, this will likely have a negative impact on their self-identity and behaviour. Participants tended to express the view that their autism was only one small part of autism. Some participants felt that they fit the stereotypes they described, or that certain autistic stereotypes may be accurate. However, some autistic people felt that they only identified with certain stereotypical traits, or none at all. The study therefore demonstrates the importance of viewing autistic people as individuals who experience shared traits but who are also diverse and unique.
Please e-mail Caroline Treweek ( or Megan Freeth ( for a copy of the paper.


Friday, 16 February 2018

Eye-tracking face-to-face conversations with autistic adults

Summary of our new research paper

Effective communication involves attending to both verbal and non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions and gaze direction. Faces can convey a person’s thoughts and intentions or their emotional and mental state. In this study we investigated whether some of this information tends to be missed by autistic adults during a face-to-face conversation. An experimenter systematically modified her gaze direction between looking directly at a participant’s eyes or averting her gaze away from the participant’s face at pre-determined points during a face-to-face conversation with a participant. The participant wore an eye-tracking device which assessed exactly where they were looking.
We found that when the experimenter looked directly at the participant’s eyes, autistic adults tended to look at the experimenter’s face less than neurotypical adults did. However, when the experimenter averted her gaze, differences between groups in how much attention was directed to the face were minimal. Neurotypical adults had a distinct preference for the eyes vs. the mouth but autistic adults did not. Both groups tended to increase looks to the face when listening compared to speaking, indicating similar spontaneous conversation-phase attention modification. A particularly striking finding was how much attention strategies of autistic adults differed from one another. While some autistic adults’ social attention was at least as much as neurotypical adults, others made very little eye-contact throughout the whole conversation.
Our findings suggest that looking directly at an autistic adult’s eyes when having a conversation can cause them to miss opportunities, that they may otherwise take, to attend to information on a face.

Read the full article