Two-thirds of people with autism feel socially isolated, according to a report which found poor public understanding of the condition is making some feel trapped in their own homes.
The National Autistic Society Scotland has published the findings of its research in a report entitled Too Much Information: why the public needs to understand autism better.
According the charity’s survey, 90 per cent of the families questioned said people stare at behaviour associated with their child’s autism, and almost three-quarters (73 per cent) said people tut or make disapproving noises when they encounter such behaviour.
And the vast majority of autistic people, 85 per cent, said they feel other people judge them as being strange, according to the findings.
The study also shows that over time, these attitudes can become too much to bear and autistic people and their families begin to retreat from public life.
Almost half of those questioned, 44 per cent, said they sometimes do not go out because they are worried about how people will react, and 66 per cent of autistic people said they feel socially isolated.
The report states: “People feel so misunderstood that they shut themselves away to avoid the stares, judgement, or even abuse.
“In Scotland, most autistic people (66 per cent) and their parents (68 per cent) feel socially isolated.
“Half sometimes feel unable to leave the house because they are worried about how others will respond to their autism.
“If these figures from our survey are extrapolated for the 58,000 autistic people across the nation, it would mean more than 38,000 autistic people in Scotland feel socially isolated.
“They avoid parties, town centres, public transport and health services. This not only has an impact on the autistic person, but on the whole family.”
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people perceive the world and interact with others. More than one in 100 people are autistic, including an estimated 58,000 people in Scotland.
Autistic people often find social situations difficult and struggle to filter out the sounds, smells, sights and information they experience, which means they feel overwhelmed when out in public. This can lead to a meltdown and a loss of behavioural control that can result in kicking, screaming and crying, the charity said.
The survey’s findings, released ahead of World Autism Awareness Day on Saturday, come as the charity launches a new public understanding campaign, called Too Much Information, to help increase knowledge of the condition.
Director Jenny Paterson said: “Two-thirds of autistic people told us they feel socially isolated, their worlds become smaller and smaller as they avoid the staring and tutting.
“But the majority of the public doesn’t set out to be unkind, people just don’t see autism - they see a ‘strange’ man pacing back and forth, or a ‘naughty’ girl having a tantrum. And they don’t give enough thought to the hurt a negative, judgmental reaction could cause.
“I will not accept a Scotland where autistic people and their families have to shut themselves away, and that’s why Too Much Information is such an important campaign. By increasing public understanding, we can build a kinder, more autism-friendly nation.”
The report is primarily based on an online survey run by the society between May and July last year. It attracted responses from 7,532 people across the UK, with 673 (9 per cent) based in Scotland.