Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Psychology

First Advisor

Laura R. Johnson

Second Advisor

Sarah A. Bilsky

Third Advisor

Denise A. Soares


University of Mississippi

Relational Format



Understanding stigma, help-seeking and barriers to treatment for persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is essential for informing interventions toward increased relevance and utility. An array of sociocultural and individual factors can influence lay beliefs and behavioral responses to ASD, including stigma and social distancing (i.e., preference for distance from autistic individuals). It is important to consider the Explanatory Models of ASD among helping professionals (e.g., health care, education) as they are likely touchstones along the help-seeking pathway for children with ASD. The purpose of this study was twofold: 1) to explore factors in the southern United States associated with different aspects of the EM, namely how background factors (demographics), knowledge, and familiarity with ASD are related to social distancing, autism stigma, and help-seeking; and 2) to elicit and compare beliefs about ASD among groups of lay persons and professionals (i.e., healthcare professionals, teachers) on the frontline of initiating the help-seeking pathway. Quantitative surveys (n = 343) and open-ended data were collected from individuals in the southern United States. Quantitative results indicated: increased knowledge was associated with lower levels of stigma and social distancing; more preference for social distance was associated with decreased help-seeking; more education and ASD knowledge were associated with increased help-seeking intentions. Similarly, the data suggests that individuals with higher levels of ASD knowledge were more likely to endorse positive attitudes towards help-seeking from professionals. Educators had more ASD knowledge than the lay community. However, educators were less likely to seek help from all sources on the measure of general help-seeking (GHSQ-V). Qualitative data indicated significant differences between groups in terms of causes and treatment of ASD. Educators and healthcare workers more frequently endorsed neurodevelopmental disorders as the cause of ASD-like symptoms compared to the lay community. While the lay community and healthcare professionals more frequently recommended psychological treatment, educators were more likely to suggest multiple, specific treatments. Overall, the present study indicated the importance of ASD knowledge and how that knowledge impacts each individual’s ability and willingness to provide access to the help-seeking pathway.


Clinical Psychology



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