Objectives: To demonstrate the dramatic impact that a mass media outlet can have on awareness of autism, we present summative data on the calls received on the Aap Ki Antara national hotline information number. We also present data documenting website traffic prior to and after the launch of the show.
Methods: Basic caller information (location of the caller, sex and age of the person of concern) was documented on all calls. To obtain in-depth information from callers, a five-week sample period was selected. During this time, additional information was recorded, including the relationship of the caller to a person with a disability, the purpose of the call, whether the caller knew about autism prior to the serial, and nature of services the person with a disability currently received.
Results: During the initial months of the hotline, more than 50 calls per day were received. During the five week sample period, the hotline averaged approximately 15 calls per day with a total of 336 calls documented. Geographically, calls were received from 25 states across India as well as from Indians in five other countries. Most calls (69%) were made by a parent; 18% were made by a relative including, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Thirty five percent of the callers had a child who already had a diagnosis of autism. In general, callers largely indicated they wanted information about autism-related services in their area (48%), with an additional 28% of the callers wanting to know more about autism specifically and 8% asking about both. An unexpected number of callers had children identified with other conditions and requested information related to these issues. Among callers who had a child with an ASD diagnosis, 48% of these children were attending no school at all.
Of particular note, 65% of all callers reported that they heard and became aware about autism only through watching Aap Ki Antara.
Data from website traffic during the selected time period showed 7,781 visitors from 129 countries and territories. Compared to a five-week period prior to the onset of the show, this represents an increase of 35% of total visitors and 30% first time visitors.
Conclusions: Aap Ki Antara is the first prime-time drama in a developing country, and perhaps any country, to focus on a character with autism. Calls to the national helpline suggest the potential power of a prime-time show to impact awareness of autism among the general public and particularly among families of children with disabilities. Implications for public awareness programs will be discussed.