Autistic people are four times more likely to be lonely than the general population, new research suggests, with many finding it hard to form and maintain social relationships.
The study, from the National Autistic Society, suggests autistic people are among the most isolated and lonely in the UK. The charity compared its new survey of almost 900 adults with autism with the Government’s own data and the results on loneliness across the population.
Previous research by the charity also suggested that 79% of autistic people feel socially isolated.
In light of the findings, the National Autistic Society is calling on MP Tracey Crouch, the minister with responsibility for tackling loneliness, to make sure the Government’s upcoming strategy addresses the root causes of loneliness for autistic people.
More than one in 100 people in the UK are on the autism spectrum. According to the charity, most autistic people want more friends and connections but many find forming and maintaining social relationships difficult and confusing.
The difficulties autistic people can face filtering out sounds, smells, sights and information can leave them feeling overwhelmed and anxious in busy public spaces. Combined with anxiety about the public misunderstanding their distress, it can sometimes be hard to go out at all. Without appropriate and accessible support and services, many autistic people fall into isolation and this can lead to loneliness.
Nita lives in Colchester and was diagnosed with autism nearly two decades ago, when she was 15. She said: “For me personally, autism is first and foremost a social disability, and I say disability because it does indeed have a disabling effect on my ability to communicate with others.
“Like many autistic people, I’m an introvert, but even introverts need some semblance of a social life.”
Nita used to believe social interaction would become easier as she got older, but despite reading literature on how to make friends and attending sociability workshops, this hasn’t been the case.
“I need friends; people who accept and like me for who I am. I am autistic, but I am no less worthy of friendship than anyone else,” she said.
Commenting on the latest research, Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, said loneliness “can be devastating and lead to serious physical and mental health problems”.
“At the National Autistic Society, we won’t accept a world where autistic people feel they have to shut themselves away. The Government can’t tackle loneliness unless it reduces the shocking levels of social isolation amongst autistic people – and addresses the root causes,” he said.
“We’ve written to Tracey Crouch MP, who is leading this work, to offer to work with her to ensure the upcoming strategy makes a difference to autistic people across the country. This means making sure everyone can get the help they need, like peer support, and training on how to cope in social situations, alongside improving public understanding of autism.”
HuffPost UK has contacted Tracey Crouch for comment.