Published: 2017-01-05

Childhood autism: knowledge and perception among university students in United Arab Emirates

Suleiman Ibrahim Sharif, Laila M. T. Bughaigis, Manar Salah, Noor Kariem, Arsha Mohamed


Background: Adequate knowledge and awareness about childhood autism allows early diagnosis and interventions. The present study was carried out to assess the knowledge and perception of university students about childhood autism.

Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted to evaluate the level of knowledge and awareness about autism spectrum disorder among university students. A total of 400 students were randomly enrolled from five universities. The questionnaire covered the major aspects of autism.

Results: Only 300 questionnaires were fully completed giving a response rate of 75%. The majority of respondents agreed that autism is a neuro-developmental disorder with strong genetic basis where family history increases chances of developing autism. They believe that vaccination, poor parenting and environmental factors are not causes of autism. Large numbers of participants were not sure if autism is more common in males than females but agreed that early identification improves the therapeutic outcomes while 44% believed that children can outgrow autism with proper treatment. More than 50% of respondents disagreed to the statements that autistic children are intellectually disabled and all display poor eye contact. Only 20% of students agreed that autistics children have mental disabilities, while about 50% believed that they can live independently.

Conclusions: University students seem to hold adequate knowledge about major hallmarks of the disorder. However, more efforts are needed to enhance awareness of not only parents and relatives but also the general public so that they can deal responsibly with identified cases of autistic children.


Childhood autism, Knowledge, Perception, University students, United Arab Emirates

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