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Calls to Action

NAAR Autism Poll Show Americans Want More Action on Autism

Americans Call for More Research, Funding & Information as a Large Majority of the American General Public Say Autism is a Serious Problem
April 23, 2007

Click on the following links to view the major findings of NAAR's Autism Poll or to take the NAAR Autism IQ Test.

America on Autism: A NAAR Public Opinion Poll - Major Findings
Autism IQ Test
Questions & Answers and national results indicating how the American general public answered the NAAR Autism IQ Test

Americans want much more information and a far greater research commitment focusing on the causes and treatment of autism spectrum disorders, according to a new poll conducted by the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR).

Results of the NAAR poll indicate that 87 percent of Americans feel that autism is a serious problem, and 71 percent of Americans want to learn more about the developmental disorder, which affects an estimated one million Americans. Recent epidemiology studies indicate the prevalence of autism is ten times higher than it was ten years ago.

In addition, almost a fifth of the U.S. population knows someone affected by an autism spectrum disorder. The poll also shows that Americans strongly support an increase in research, funding for research and information sharing that enables the U.S. medical community to address autism at the level it deserves.

“The findings of this poll call to mind the hunger for information that I felt when my son was first diagnosed,” said Karen London, who founded NAAR in 1994 with her husband, Eric. “You don't have to be a parent to see that autism is something about which we all need to be better informed.”

The poll uncovered a sense of urgency that Americans feel regarding autism: · 62 percent of Americans are aware of the rising autism prevalence level · 69 percent of Americans worry about autism going undiagnosed because there is no reliable (biological) test to diagnose the disorder

Early intervention, which is the key to the treatments that do exist, is very difficult without a biologically-based diagnostic tool. Typically, autism spectrum disorders are diagnosed in children between two or three years of age.

Autism is a complex brain disorder that often impairs a person's ability to communicate, respond to surroundings, or form relationships with others. No two cases of autism are the same, and it affects people of every racial, ethnic, and socio-economic background.

Currently, the causes of autism are unknown, and there are no specific medical treatments or cure.

When asked about research funding to find treatments and a cure for autism, 89 percent of Americans support an increase in the amount spent. A majority of Americans (53%) think the Federal government should play a major role in ensuring that this increase occurs, and a large majority of Americans (81%) would like private corporations, including pharmaceutical companies, to play a larger role in autism research funding. Autism research currently has very little commitment from private corporations, and is the 50th lowest area of medical research out of 60 areas funded by the National Institutes of Health.

While Americans are familiar with the lack of preventative measures and the possible causes, they are largely unfamiliar with some other basic facts about autism.

Even though they feel there is a growing problem, 77 percent of Americans undercount the number of people in the U.S. who have autism.

Recent studies suggest that over one million people in the U.S. have autism spectrum disorders, which occur in an estimated one out of every 250 births – making autism the second most common developmental disorder, second only to mental retardation.

The survey found other common misperceptions: · 55 percent of Americans are not sure or think there is a clinical test for autism · 69 percent of Americans do not know that autism is more prevalent in boys than girls

Currently, there is no way to biologically diagnose autism. A variety of symptoms and warning signs are used to determine whether a child has autism, particularly a delay in developing language skills. Autism is approximately four times as prevalent in boys than girls.

The poll showed that 36 percent of Americans understand the role that heredity and genes are thought to play in the cause of autism, and 43 percent believe that genes and heredity play the largest role. The belief that vaccines cause autism was cited at a much lower rate (5%). Americans have digested the information available on the possible causes of autism, and the levels of concern echo the findings of the latest scientific studies.

“Genetics may play an important role in our understanding of the cause of autism and could help us develop methods to make a much earlier diagnosis,” said Andy Shih, Ph.D., director of Research and Programs at NAAR. “The cause is possibly the result of gene-environment interplay, and NAAR supports and funds a wide range of research focusing on all potential causes, including immunology, the neurosciences, biology and genetics.”

The poll determined that 86 percent of the American public is excited about the role genetics play in the treatment and curing of diseases in general and the role it may be able to play in autism.

While Americans are generally proving themselves to be savvy consumers of medical information, there still exist major misperceptions about autism, which may be rooted in the sources of information about the disorder. According to the poll, 35 percent of Americans receive information about autism from television programs, while just three percent receive information from their doctors.

The findings of this poll reinforce NAAR's mission, further stressing the need to fund, support and accelerate autism research.

This poll was a comprehensive, nationally representative telephone study among 500 Americans 18 years of age and older and was conducted by Global Strategy Group in conjunction with Widmeyer Communications for the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR). The margin of error for the study is +/- 4.4% at the 95th percent confidence interval level. For the purpose of this poll, the term autism refers to all autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger Syndrome, Autistic Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD), Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDDNOS) and Rett Syndrome.