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Danila Leonardi


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The difference a diagnosis makes on student's perceptions of their female autistic peers


More and more people nowadays are being diagnosed with autism, which makes it imperative to learn the best ways to help them integrate within society as best as we can. Autism implies difficulties in social interactions, especially in reading social cues and behaving in a socially appropriate manner resulting in social anxiety, which worsens autistic people’s quality of life (Spain et al., 2018). This can get them excluded or discriminated against by their social circles, which at an early age can have long-lasting consequences especially for girls on the spectrum. If diagnosed early on, this would not impact the neurodivergent children’s lives as much, as their peers could be informed on how these behaviours are unintentional and would therefore be less inclined to exclude them (Dillenburger et al., 2017). Unfortunately, girls tend to go undiagnosed until their adulthood as neurodivergence in girls shows differently than in boys, whose characteristics are better known by the general public and easier to recognise (Gould, 2017). This has long-lasting damaging consequences on autistic girls, who are more likely to exhaust themselves with masking techniques and develop anxiety and depression in later stages of life and have their life quality severely impacted (Matson & Goldin, 2013). Therefore, this study seeks to answer the question “Does being aware of a diagnosis of autism change the students’ perceptions of their female autistic peers?”. There were two groups of participants, psychology students and non-psychology students. This hypothesis was tested by developing two vignettes depicting a hypothetical female autistic peer. Only the second vignette disclosed the subject’s diagnosis to participants. The results reveal that most people were, in fact, more open to include the autistic classmate in activities and were more likely to be patient and understanding towards her after learning of her diagnosis.


Danila Leonardi is a fourth-year Psychology student at the University of Glasgow. Danila grew up in Italy and then moved to Glasgow to pursue her dream to become a therapist, her ultimate goal being to help the community one person at a time. During her university career, she understood that helping children would be the best way to do so, as they are the in need of someone to voice their concearns and help change their lives for the better. In order to get closer to her goals, Danila applied and got accepted into two prestigious summerschool programmes. The first one was at the University of Tokyo and the second one at the University of Amsterdam, joining the courses "Early Language Acquisition" and "Mental Health and wellbeing in youth" respectively, and passing them with full marks. She is now focusing on the importance of early diagnosis for female neurodiverse children, and will soon be applying for a masters in Child Psychology.

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