The Impact of Contact and Personality Traits on Attitudes Toward Individuals with Autism and Other Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
Objectives: The current study further investigated attitudes by examining person by environment interactions between individual traits and types of contact with individuals with IDDs. We hoped to gain a better understanding of this relationship and to differentiate the effects of quality and quantity of contact when specifically considering lifetime exposure to people with an ASD or other IDDs. Better knowledge of this relationship will increase our understanding of possible barriers to inclusion and identify opportunities for program improvements.
Methods: In the present study, 550 adults completed a survey that measured their level of quantity and quality of contact with individuals with IDD across their lifetime, personality factors, and their current attitudes. Our measure of attitudes captured feelings of exclusion, sheltering, and empowerment toward individuals with IDDs. The current study focused on exposure to individuals with IDDs broadly, as earlier diagnostic trends would likely influence adults’ ability to differentiate between autism and other IDDs when recalling lifetime exposure.
Results: Multiple regression analyses suggested consistent links between higher quality of contact and lower levels of negative attitudes toward individuals with IDD (exclusion: β= -.332, p<001; empowerment: β=.391, p<001). The analyses further revealed significant person by environment interactions in shaping attitudes, and found that both agreeableness and social dominance moderated the impact of quality and quantity of contact on attitudes. Specifically, quality of contact was particularly beneficially associated with attitudes for people low on agreeableness or social dominance. In contrast, quantity of contact was detrimentally associated with attitudes for individuals high on social dominance.
Conclusions: These results suggest that mere exposure is not beneficial in decreasing negative attitudes and that contact that is meaningful and cooperative is related to more positive attitudes; this is especially important for individuals with certain personality traits. Recognizing the importance of quality of contact may be especially significant when designing and implementing inclusive opportunities for individuals with autism in our schools and general community.