In The Politics of Autism, I write:
The number of people with a stake in the issue is going to mount. I am not saying that there will be a true increase in the prevalence of autism. As we saw in chapter 3, it is unclear how much of the apparent change involves awareness and diagnostic standards. Even if there has been a true increase in recent decades, there is no way of knowing whether it will go on. But the rise in the number of autism diagnoses and educational determinations will translate into a growing population of people who have lived with the autism label, and who think of themselves as autistic. Most in this category will have family members and other people who are close to them. They may be guardians or caregivers, or they may just be friends and relatives with a deep concern. Either way, autism will be part of their lives, too. Overall, the share of Americans who know someone with autism will surely top the 39 percent recorded in 2008. One study found that 60 percent of respondents in Northern Ireland knew someone with autism in their own family, circle of friends or co-workers. There is no reason to think that the figure would be lower in the United States.
Eight in ten New Jerseyans say that they know someone who has been diagnosed with Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, which was conducted in collaboration with the New Jersey Autism Center of Excellence at Rutgers University.
Sixty-eight percent know an ASD-diagnosed child outside of their family, 48 percent know an ASD-diagnosed adult outside of their family, 31 percent have a child family member with ASD, and 18 percent have an adult family member.
Yet, despite these connections, few interact regularly with individuals who have Autism: about a quarter interact with an individual with Autism weekly, one in five have monthly interactions, three in ten have less frequent interactions, and a quarter have no interactions at all.
Six in ten New Jerseyans (62 percent) have seen or heard ASD referred to as a behavioral problem. A similar number (55 percent) think that a child with Autism does not have the ability to control his or her behavior.
Just over half have seen or heard ASD referred to as a brain disorder (54 percent) or mental illness (52 percent). Fewer have heard Autism referred to as a nervous system disorder (39 percent). When it comes to treatment, two-thirds of residents (67 percent) think that ASD is best treated with a combination of both medication and behavioral therapy.
“The American Psychiatric Association has already included sensory issues in the DSM-5 as part of the criteria for diagnosing Autism, yet the public still perceives Autism as a behavioral problem or mental illness more than they do a disorder of the nervous system,” said Elizabeth Torres, associate professor of Psychology and director of the New Jersey Autism Center of Excellence at Rutgers University. “This misperception of what Autism is and is not is especially detrimental to treating it in schools. Without neurologists on hand, teachers and aides may not know how to cope with the somatic and sensory-motor issues that we have measured in research settings.”
More than eight in 10 support the federal government providing financial assistance for individuals with Autism and their families.
Results are from a statewide poll of 1,008 adults contacted by live callers on landlines and cell phones from March 29 through April 9, 2019. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.5 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.