The diagnosis of ASD has increased over the last fifteen years, with many scholars providing possible explanations for this (Elsabbagh et al., 2012; Russell et al., 2015). Specifically, this study contributes to the body of research investigating the awareness that the identification of ASD in females may be later than that in males, as well as the awareness that misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis is more likely in females (Dworzynski et al., 2012; Loomes et al., 2017; Van Wijngaarden-Cremers et al., 2014).
This study focused upon the perceptions and understandings of ASD within a specific population sample. Furthermore, the exploratory nature of study facilitated the collection of both quantitative and qualitative data, as well as enabling comparisons to prior literature in the field to be made.
Methodologically, this study enlisted a mixed method approach, made up of three methods; questionnaires, interviews and a case study based task. These methods were used in two base locations, with the inclusion criteria being standardised and practices mirrored in both locations. Through these methods, data was gathered, coded, and analysed, to enable conclusions to be made. Ethical issues, for example confidentiality and informed consent, were considered throughout the completion of the project, with ethical approval from the university ethics board being obtained prior to collecting data. Questionnaires were collected from staff currently employed within a school, for example, a class teacher. In comparison, interviews and the case study based activity were collected from specific professionals involved with ASD, for example, speech and language therapists.
A total of 29 questionnaires were collected, all of which were completed through the medium of English. Additionally, a total of nine responses were obtained for the case study based activity, as well as two participants who completed the interview. No participants who completed the questionnaire stated that they had a diagnosis of ASD. This marker was not ascertained within the other two methods.
Overall, three key themes were identified upon analysis of results gathered from all three methods used. The first theme considers participant’s understanding and awareness of the diagnosis rates of ASD, which overall presented an understanding that males were more frequently diagnosed, with the awareness that females can be diagnosed in a smaller proportion of participants. Secondly, current developments in the field were mentioned and discussed by some participants, although, it is likely that inaccurate responses and statements were a result of various factors, including a lack of awareness in current developments and societal assumptions and misconceptions. Finally, the awareness and acknowledgement that gender may have an effect within the field of ASD lacked frequent understanding, specifically within the questionnaire respondents.
This study obtained findings that contribute to wider research, with some findings supporting previous research, as well as some that challenge or differ from previous study. Irrespective of this, this study demonstrates that understandings of ASD, and the possible relationship with gender, remain variable. Regardless of if or how this study is expanded, increasing the reliability and validity of diagnoses should remain at the centre of the objectives and aims of study.