The current study sought to understand how viewing a video clip from a television show featuring an autistic character would impact the stereotypes and attitudes that neurotypical college students have about autism. College student participants viewed a scene depicting an autistic character who either speaks about their experiences with ASD (i.e., informational condition), behaves in a relatable manner (i.e., relatable condition), or engages in stereotypical autistic behaviors (i.e., stereotypical condition). Results indicated that participants endorsed fewer stereotypes about autism and autistic people in the informational clip condition than in the relatable clip. This finding supports previous work demonstrating that learning about the lived experiences of a media character with a disability reduced stereotypes (Gaertner et al., 1993) and that a show explaining an autistic character’s behavior increased participants’ likelihood of identifying false information about ASD compared to those who viewed an educational presentation (Stern & Barnes, 2019). In the clip in our study, the main character described how she sees the world differently from neurotypical people. Further, the effect of the video clip condition on the endorsement of autism stereotypes was mediated by liking the autistic character, whom participants liked more in the informational than the relatable condition. This finding is consistent with researchers’ adaption of Allport’s (1954) contact theory, in which intergroup contact, even vicarious contact, can reduce stereotypes (e.g., Crisp & Turner, 2012) and lead to attitude change towards autistic individuals (Dickter & Burk, 2021). Our study identifies one of the mechanisms responsible for this relationship. Together, our findings suggest that viewing a short video in which a character describes their experiences with autism can be a potential intervention that colleges may use to reduce stereotypes about autism and autistic people but underscore the importance of ensuring that this character is likable
Not in this article, but here is an example of a video in which an autistic person (my son) describes his experiences.