Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. in Psychology

First Advisor

Laura R. Johnson

Second Advisor

Nicolaas Prins

Third Advisor

Stephanie Miller


University of Mississippi

Relational Format



Stigma has been associated with physical and mental health conditions and their treatment long before formal care systems. Negative perceptions within the lay community, such as stigma and social distancing, negatively impact individuals with autism and their families. The purpose of this study was to explore factors associated with autism stigma among laypeople in the Southern United States. Specifically, the study explored how demographics, knowledge, and familiarity are related to social distancing and stigma, and how these factors relate to beliefs about and intentions of help-seeking. Using a lay sample (N=108) of rural Southern towns, survey data was collected in two community settings (healthcare centers and churches). The survey consisted of questionnaires designed to measure an individual’s knowledge of ASD, stigma, social distancing, and help-seeking attitudes. Multiple hierarchical regressions examined the following hypotheses: 1) demographics (i.e., age, gender, education level, and income level), ASD knowledge, and ASD familiarity will predict stigma 2) demographics, knowledge, and familiarity will predict social distancing 3) demographics, knowledge, familiarity, stigma, and social distancing will predict help-seeking intentions. Results partially supported the hypotheses. That is, individuals who have higher levels of ASD knowledge are less likely to hold stigmatized attitudes towards individuals with ASD. Individuals more familiar with someone with autism were less likely to prefer greater social distance. People who preferred higher amounts of social distance were more likely to avoid seeking help than individuals who had preference for less social distance. It appears that both are needed in order to reduce social distancing and increase help-seeking intentions. Taken together, these findings indicate an increased need for awareness and intervention campaigns that provide psychoeducation along with opportunities for interaction. Contrary to previous literature, there were no indications that demographic variables (i.e., age, gender, educational level, or income level) significantly predicted any of these variables. Future research should focus on larger sample sizes with increased diversity in background and beliefs. Increased male representation would be helpful, as would efforts to study ASD phenomena in other regions of the United States and in the world.



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