The impact of a positive autism identity and autistic community solidarity on social anxiety and mental health in autistic young people

Kate Cooper, Ailsa Russell, Jiedi Lei, Laura G. E. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (SciVal)

Abstract

Autism is increasingly seen as a social identity, as well as a clinical diagnosis. Evidence suggests that autistic adults who have stronger autism social identification have better psychological well-being. Autism is a condition which impacts on social interactions, and so one’s sense of autism identification may be particularly important for reducing social anxiety, which is common in autistic adolescents. We aimed to investigate how the subcomponents of autism identification relate to social anxiety in autistic young people. We hypothesised that autistic young people who had a higher satisfaction with their autism identity, and more solidarity with other autistic people, would have better psychological well-being and lower social anxiety. 121 autistic young people between the ages of 15–22 completed questionnaires measuring self-reported autism traits, social anxiety, psychological well-being, and different components of autism social identification. We conducted regression analyses controlling for age, gender, and autism traits. We found that higher autism satisfaction was associated with higher psychological well-being and lower social anxiety. Young people with higher autism solidarity had higher psychological well-being, but there was no significant relationship between solidarity and social anxiety. We conclude that it is important to support autistic young people to develop autism social identification. Lay abstract: Autism is a diagnosis given to individuals by professionals but is also increasingly seen as an identity which an individual can choose for themselves. We wanted to explore how having autism as an identity affects autistic young people. There is evidence that autistic adults have better psychological well-being when they feel more solidarity with other autistic people and feel positively about being autistic. We know that autistic teenagers often feel anxious in social situations. Having a positive autism identity might help alleviate social anxiety associated with being autistic. We wanted to find out if autistic young people who felt more solidarity with other autistic people, and had more positive feelings about autism, had better psychological well-being and less social anxiety. We asked 121 autistic people aged 15–22 years to complete some questionnaires. These questionnaires asked about the young person’s autism traits, social anxiety, and psychological well-being. The questionnaires also asked how satisfied they felt to be autistic (satisfaction) and how much solidarity they felt with the autism community (solidarity). We found that autistic young people who had higher autism satisfaction had better psychological well-being and lower social anxiety. Young people who felt more solidarity with other autistic people had higher psychological well-being. There was no association between autism solidarity and social anxiety. We conclude that is important to support autistic young people to develop positive feelings about autism and to feel solidarity with other autistic people.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)848-857
JournalAutism
Volume27
Issue number3
Early online date4 Sept 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: K.C. was funded by a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship for this research project (ICA-CDRF-2018-04-ST2-047).

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2022.

Keywords

  • anxiety
  • autism identity
  • autism solidarity
  • autism spectrum disorders
  • autism strengths
  • psychological well-being
  • social anxiety
  • social identification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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