The Effects of Diagnostic Disclosure, ASD Knowledge, and Peer ASD Symptomology on the Perception of Vignette Characters with ASD

Thursday, May 11, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
C. M. McMahon1 and L. Arader2, (1)Department of Social & Behavioral Sciences, Miami University, Hamilton, OH, (2)Department of Psychology, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY
Background: Few studies have examined what factors influence and/or increase the positive engagement of peers who interact with individuals with ASD. Given that individuals with ASD experience stigmatizing attitudes from peers (Humphrey & Lewis, 2008) and that peers themselves endorse such attitudes (Obeid et al., 2015), there is a need for further research in this area.

Objectives: The goal of this study was to examine three factors that may influence peer perception of individuals with ASD: (1) the peer’s awareness of the individual’s diagnosis, (2) the peer’s knowledge of ASD, and (3) the extent to which the peer experiences symptoms characteristic of ASD.

Methods: 203 undergraduate students were randomly assigned to read a series of vignettes wherein the main character exhibited behavior characteristic of ASD and disclosed: (1) an ASD diagnosis, (2) an unrelated diagnosis (e.g., depression), or (3) no diagnosis. Participants’ perceptions toward the vignette character were examined using the Openness Scale (Nevill & White, 2011) and the Affect, Cognition, and Behavior Subscales of the Multidimensional Attitudes Scale (Findler et al., 2007). Participants’ knowledge of ASD was assessed by an author-created questionnaire, and the Autism Spectrum Quotient (Baron-Cohen et al., 2001) was used to evaluate participants’ ASD symptomology. Four hierarchical linear regressions (dependent variables: Openness, Affect, Cognition, Behavior) were used to analyze the data.

Results: Across all regressions, participants had more positive perceptions of characters who disclosed an ASD diagnosis compared to those who did not disclose a diagnosis, Openness: t(197) = -5.21, p < 0.01, Affect: t(196) = -2.33, p = 0.02, Cognition: t(200) = -3.47, p < 0.01, Behavior: t(198) = -4.07, p < 0.01, but there were no significant differences in perception of characters who disclosed an ASD versus unrelated diagnosis. Greater knowledge of ASD was associated with more openness, t(197) = 2.90, p < 0.01, and positive affect, t(196) = 4.90, p < 0.01, toward vignette characters. Participants who endorsed having more symptoms of ASD reported more distancing behavior, t(198) = -2.79, p = 0.01, less openness toward vignette characters who revealed an unrelated diagnosis, t(197) = -3.08, p < 0.01, and more negative affect toward vignette characters who did not reveal a diagnosis, t(196) = -2.48, p = 0.01. See Table 1 and Figure 1.

Conclusions: Overall, peers responded more positively when vignette characters disclosed a diagnosis, regardless of the nature of that diagnosis. Diagnostic disclosure may provide peers with a cognitive explanation for odd social behaviors demonstrated by the vignette character and/or may lead peers to experience more empathy for the vignette character. Peer knowledge of ASD was associated with more positive perceptions of vignette characters, suggesting that further work should be done to educate peers about ASD. Finally, peers who endorsed ASD symptomology had more negative perceptions of vignette characters, particularly when the characters did not disclose an ASD diagnosis. These results may reflect social difficulties on behalf of the peer, as well as a potential affinity for others who openly endorse experiencing social difficulties.