Focus: Communications - Three minutes with... Rebecca Lloyd, National Autism Society

What is the survey that has just been published?

We had known for some time that we wanted to get a better understanding of the public's perceptions and misconceptions about autism. We had done a few small-scale surveys but then our corporate partner, Vodafone, offered to pay for one on a much larger scale. We decided to go live on 26 September, the day after our Day for Autism, to capitalise on people's awareness.

How did you get people to take part?

Vodafone sent out text messages to a randomly selected segment of their customers, of whom 4,698 responded. They could text a keyword back so that we would get their address and send them a pack. We also had adverts on all the commercial radio stations that gave out our web address so people could fill in the surveys online or could call up and request one.

We sent out a prepaid envelope with the packs so people could return them at no cost to themselves. The whole campaign cost about £380,000.

How many people took part?

More than 28,000 people completed surveys, and we were really overwhelmed at the response. The findings surprised us - we suspected that some people thought it was common for those with autism to have savant qualities, such as those displayed by Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, but we didn't realise how many.

In fact, around half of those surveyed believed this. In reality, only 1 per cent of autistic people have such abilities. Not many people seem to be aware of how prevalent autism is - it's more common than cerebral palsy and Down's syndrome put together.

How will you use the survey?

We will use it to inform our future campaigns. We are running an education campaign in spring that the findings will really help with. We are pleased with the success of the survey and hope to build on it.

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