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.