Group Publication: ASH1L mouse mannequin, camouflaging commentary, autism-specific suicidal behaviors survey | Spectrum

Illustration by Laurène Boglio

Hello and welcome to this week’s community newsletter! I am your host, Chelsey B. Coombs, the engagement editor of Spectrum.

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We start this week with a tweet from George Mias, Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Michigan State University in East Lansing, who has written new paper on how the ASH1L gene is linked to both autism and intellectual disability.

New paper! The loss of the histone methyltransferase ASH1L in the developing mouse brain causes autistic behavior. Great work from Jin He Lab (@MSU_BMB) in establishing the ASD / ID mouse model
• https: // via @ CommsBio @ RobisonLabMSU @gmiaslab @ msuresearch # autism #neuroscience

– George Mias (@georgemias) June 18, 2021

The researchers created an ASH1L knockout mouse model that shows delays in brain development before and after birth. The mice also have behaviors similar to traits of autism seen in humans, such as repetitive behaviors and decreased social interaction, as well as signs of intellectual disability, including memory impairment.

The team writes that the new model will help researchers develop and test “new therapeutic approaches based on the role of ASH1L in regulating gene expression in brain development”.

Next up is a tweet from Zack Williams, a graduate student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, on his new comment on camouflage.

See my new comment in JCPP on #Camoufaging’s construct validity and how researchers can validate actions on this important construct. Would love to hear people’s thoughts.

– Zack Williams (@QuantPsychiatry) June 18, 2021

Camouflage in autism has become a hot research topic, but the way researchers are currently defining and measuring it is imprecise, argues Williams.

Researchers often use the self-reported Camoufaging Autistic Traits Questionnaire (CAT-Q), but it’s unclear whether CAT-Q partial scores or totals should be used, Williams says, or whether the measure is appropriate for all subsets of autistic people. Future research should determine how differently camouflage differs from social anxiety and other psychological states, he says, and the field should turn to observable behaviors in experimental settings rather than using self-reporting questionnaires.

Henry Wood, a research fellow at the University of Southampton in the UK, tweeted that the article offered “a lot of food for thought”.

Important article on the construct validity of camouflage measures. Lots of food for thought ????

– Henry Wood-Downie (@DrHenryWood) June 19, 2021

Meng-Chuan Lai, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto in Canada, wrote that the comment was “pleasant and insightful read.”

Insightful and super-constructive suggestions from @QuantPsychiatry on research directions of the next step in order to better understand the so-called “camouflaging” in autistic and non-autistic people. Such an enjoyable and insightful read!

– Meng-Chuan Lai (@mengchuanlai) June 19, 2021

Our last tweet was from Sarah Cassidy, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Nottingham in the UK. Your team has created a new version of a questionnaire on suicidal behavior specifically for autistic people, the so-called Suicidal Behaviors Questionnaire – Autism Spectrum Conditions or SBQ-ASC.

We are pleased to announce the release of our new tool developed with and for #autistic adults to better identify suicidal thoughts and behavior in research studies: (free). Summary of this work also in the thread below ????

– Sarah Cassidy (@Sarah_NottsUni) June 21, 2021

Based on feedback from autistic people, Cassidy and her colleagues simplified and clarified questions from the Standard Suicidal Behaviors Questionnaire (SBQ-R) and added visual aids to make abstract answers such as “rare” or “very likely” more concrete. They also added questions to assess the frequency and duration of suicidal thoughts in autistic people.

The new questionnaire is intended for researchers, the team says, and not for clinicians trying to determine a person’s risk for future suicide attempts or self-harm.

Rachel Morgan-Trimmer, Neurodiversity Advisor and co-founder of the Neurodiversity Association, tweeted that the paper highlights how “academics and others are taking steps to fill gaps in services.”

That’s very good. Not just because the tool itself will detect and prevent harm in autistic people, but because academics and others are taking steps to fill gaps in the services.

A huge thank you to @Sarah_NottsUni and her team.

– Rachel Morgan-Trimmer (@SparkleClass) June 22, 2021

If you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide, help is available. Here is a global directory of resources and hotlines you can call for support.

Finally, we just updated our Twitter lists with Spectrum employees, freelancers, interns, and autism researchers. Check these out if you want to know what the autism research news community is talking about – and let us know if you’d like to be added.

That’s it for this week’s community newsletter from Spectrum! If you have any suggestions for interesting social contributions in the field of autism research, feel free to email me at We meet next week!

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