Higher Levels of Autistic Traits Are Associated with Lower Wellbeing in Performing Arts Professionals and Students

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 10, 2018: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
E. Buckley1, E. Pellicano2 and A. Remington3, (1)UCL Centre for Research in Autism & Education, London, United Kingdom, (2)Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, (3)UCL Centre for Research in Autism and Education, London, United Kingdom

Researchers and clinicians have long held that imagination is limited in autism. Yet it is increasingly recognised that creativity might be an area of strength in autistic people (Best et al., 2015). Although creative practice has not traditionally been thought of as an occupation in which autistic people would engage, anecdotal reports suggest that there might be a group of individuals with high levels of autistic traits pursuing careers in creative fields such as the performing arts. The performing arts is a varied profession, but usually artists are self-employed and need to possess skills including networking, administration, self-promotion, and time management – skills that are well known to be challenging for autistic people. Performing artists with high levels of autistic traits may therefore be experiencing difficulties in these areas and may benefit from support.

This study sought for the first time to identify the extent to which autistic people, or those with high levels of autistic traits, are pursuing careers in the performing arts, and to determine the nature of the relationship between individuals’ autistic traits and their reported wellbeing, including perceived self-efficacy (during training and in the workplace), quality of life, mental health and perceived level of support required.

To address these aims, we recruited a self-selecting, community-based sample of individuals working or studying in the performing arts, and invited them to complete an online survey. 1729 respondents took part: 1447 professionals and 282 students. The survey collected responses on participants' backgrounds, including diagnostic history as well as measures assessing their level of autistic traits (Subthreshold Autistic Traits Questionnaire (SATQ)), perceived self-efficacy (related either to their workplace or education, indexed by bespoke measures), quality of life (WHOQOL-BREF) and mental health (PHQ-8, GAD-7). There were also asked open-ended questions about support needed, received, or desired in their workplace or educational institution.


16 professionals (1%) and 8 students (3%) reported a clinical diagnosis of autism, and 50 professionals (3%) and 8 students (3%) scored more than 2 SD above the mean score on the SATQ. Correlational analyses between SATQ scores and scores on wellbeing measures demonstrated significant relationships for quality of life (r=-0.34, p<0.001), self-efficacy (workplace: r=-0.41, p<0.001; educational: r=-0.44, p=<0.001) and mental health (depression: r=0.405, p<0.001; anxiety: r=0.360, p<0.001): higher levels of autistic traits were associated with lower levels of quality of life, lower levels of self-efficacy and greater severity of mental health conditions. 631 (44%) professionals and 94 (33%) students reported a desire for more support, and autistic traits were significantly higher in participants who wanted support (p<0.001).


Within the community of performing artists, there are a minority of individuals who are autistic or who have high levels of autistic traits. This study has demonstrated for the first time that these individuals may be especially vulnerable to lower wellbeing. More research is needed to understand how best to support these individuals.