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Autism Awareness Is in Short Supply, Research Says

McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MITMcGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT
McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT Justin Knight

You might not guess that April is National Autism Awareness Month given the results of new research that shows a solid majority of Americans think they know no one who is affected by autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Autism is a developmental disability that usually manifests itself in early childhood—and it affects lots of people: One of 68 children in U.S.—and one out of 42 boys—have autism in some form, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

And yet 75% of the 1,113 American adults surveyed early this month said they don’t know anyone with autism.

Then there was this sign that the awareness month PR campaign is not helping: Nearly half (46%) of those responding said they were not aware that April is, in fact, Autism Awareness month. That number included respondents who are close to someone with autism, according to the survey which was sponsored by Leka, a company that offers an interactive robotic toy for children with autism.

Some other findings: Just 62% of those surveyed felt people with autism are productive members of society; more than half (53%) said it’s acceptable for people with autism to marry; and less than half (48%) think people with autism can work well in an office setting.

A full two-thirds of those surveyed said health insurance providers should be required to cover autism-related treatment and therapy expenses but less than one-third (28%) felt that today’s treatment and therapy options are covered. Given that the average cost of care over an autistic person’s lifetime was estimated to be $2 million three years ago, this is quite a gap.

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Autism Spectrum Disorder, as the name implies, covers a wide range of characteristics. Some people on the spectrum are extremely high functioning, and others can be non-verbal and unable to interact well with others. Some need constant care.

This research comes at a time when several tech companies—including professional services firm EY (formerly Ernst & Young), Microsoft, and SAP (SAP)—have launched hiring programs for those with autism. Last month, for example, Microsoft (MSFT) hosted an Autism@work virtual job fair.

On June 12, MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research will officially unveil its new Center for Autism Research, launched with $20 million in initial funding from Broadcom (BRCM) chief executive officer Hock Tan and former investment banker Lisa Yang.