'Why are people so ignorant about autism?'

Australians are being asked to take part in a Curtin University survey aimed at identifying what the public actually knows about autism.

Children on the autism spectrum don't lack empathy, they want to have friends, and most aren't like 'Rain Man' - yet these are still the common misconceptions about autistic people.

Concerned Australians remain "ignorant" of autism, researchers are reaching out to 'neurotypicals' - those without autism - to identify what the public actually know about the developmental disorder.

"Anecdotally we know that people with autism struggle because they feel misunderstood and they feel like people don't get them, there's a lot of misunderstanding happening," says special education expert Dr Marita Falkmer from the School of Occupational Therapy and Social Work at Curtin University and member of the Autism Collaborative Research Centre.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, an estimated 164,000 Australians had autism in 2015. This represented about 1 in 150 people.

Advocacy group A4 estimates at least 1 in 63 Australian school children has a formal autism diagnosis.

Members of the Curtin Autism Research Group hope to recruit 1000 people to share their thoughts about people with autism through an anonymous online survey, which takes about 5-10 minutes to complete.

The idea for the survey was produced in consultation with autistic people, who guided the terminology.

Researchers reached out to the autistic community via Facebook, asking them what, in relation to autism, they wanted researched.

A common response was: "Why are people so ignorant of autism?"

According to Dr Falkmer, one of the most common misunderstandings of autism is that those on the spectrum lack empathy.

"Which is not true, because empathy is a complex thing. Empathy is about recognising what someone feels and why they might feel," says Dr Falkmer said.

A person with autism may have difficulty responding to the other person, but this has been badly conveyed by the media, says Dr Falkmer.

"Sometimes even more than us neurotypicals they are very sensitive to emotions around them, but not always sure what the other person's emotions stands for and how they should respond," Dr Falkmer told AAP.

To complete the survey people can go to: https://curtin.au1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_87zxeHnV9r3z4wZ.

Source AAP

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