Research on attitudes toward college students with high-functioning autism (HFA) in college settings produced mixed findings. This study builds on prior research by examining the affective and cognitive attitudes toward vignette characters with and without an autism label. Students from two public Southern California Universities (n = 712) responded to a counterbalanced order of three vignette stories with typical college scenarios with a peer with or without HFA. Female students had more negative affective attitudes than male students but less negative cognitive attitudes. Students with personal or professional experience had more positive attitudes, while Asian students had more negative attitudes. Results of the current study may provide guidance on improving peer attitudes toward college students with HFA.
From the article:
Unlike other visible disabilities, autism lacks the phenotypic markers of a visible disability which causes others to negatively perceive these individuals as purposely violating social norms (Gray, 2002; Obeid et al., 2015). For this reason, individuals with HFA are considered to be particularly at risk of being stigmatized because it is often a “hidden disability,” in which they often have a physical appearance suggesting typical development but are misunderstood because of the deficits in their social skills (Dachez & Ndobo, 2018). Therefore, additional work is needed to understand the factors that impact these negative views to increase peer acceptance of individuals with HFA in the college setting. By being aware of these factors, school psychologists can collaborate with other team members to identify areas to strengthen the necessary skills for these students (Talapatra et al., 2018). School psychologists can incorporate and identify interventions that increase advocacy skills to increase peer acceptance when implementing effective transition services for students with HFA.
In research questions 1 and 2, this study explored students’ affective and cognitive attitudes toward fictional characters identified with or without HFA and the influence of demographic characteristics on college students’ perception. This work had consistent findings with Matthews et al. (2015) who found that college students in the HFA with label condition reported more positive attitudes; in the present within-subjects study, participants also reported more positive attitudes when presented with the vignette with a label. In addition, having higher scores on the BAPQ also predicted more negative affective and cognitive attitudes. However, participants had more negative affective attitudes toward the characters with HFA without a label and had more positive affective attitudes toward the characters with a label.