Group Publication: Autistic researcher strengths, difficult the medical analysis mannequin | Spectrum

Illustration by Laurène Boglio

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

We start this week with a paper on the strengths of autistic researchers by Aimee Grant, Senior Research Officer in Public Health at Swansea University, and Helen Kara, Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Social Sciences at the University of Manchester, both in the UK.

New paper alert! @DrHelenKara and I – both #AutisticsInAcademia – wrote about our experiences with #Autists and how this affects our #qualitative #research

There are also suggestions for how you can support autistic colleagues on your research team

– Dr. Aimee Grant ♿ (she / she) (@DrAimeeGrant) November 8, 2021

Really proud of this #OA article in @AcadSocSciences @ cssjournal1 and thanks to @DrAimeeGrant for his excellent collaboration! Ping @milton_damian @ nshaughnessy1 @beccajiggens #ActuallyAutistic #OpenAccess

– Helen Kara (@DrHelenKara) November 8, 2021

Grant and Kara, both late diagnosed autistic researchers, consider how the strengths they found in a literature review and in their own professional experiences can be more broadly applied to all autistic researchers.

“Despite over 50 years of activism in disability research, people with disabilities are still predominantly viewed as research subjects rather than researchers,” they wrote.

Grant and Kara highlight an approach called Autistic Advantage, which claims that autistic researchers can hyper-focus, pay close attention to details, and think creatively in ways that non-autistic people cannot. They also describe how employers can help autistic researchers thrive at work.

Bill Davies, Professor of Acoustics and Perception at the University of Salford in the UK, tweeted, “I think this could be useful as my university is trying to be more inclusive.”

Great paper; a lot to tell here. I think this could be useful as my university is trying to be more inclusive.

– Bill Davies (@BillJDavies) November 8, 2021

Alice Nicholls, a UK clinical psychologist specializing in autism, tweeted that the paper “is another great example of how much #ActualAutistic people have to offer their profession”.

Another great example of how much #ActualAutist people have to offer their profession. This paper covers how autism can be both a benefit and a challenge, and how adjustments can help us be successful ??????? # AutisticsInAcademia

– Alice Nicholls (@DrAliceNicholls) November 9, 2021

The University of Southern California’s Disparity Reduction and Equity in Autism Services Lab, led by Assistant Professor of Ergonomics and Occupational Therapy, Amber Angell tweeted, “We have so much more to offer than stereotypes and stigma!”

The # neurodiversity model is so important to create an awareness that #autistic traits are not inherent deficits, but often distinct strengths. #Hyperfocus is the reason I’m doing my PhD. College student. We have so much more to offer, beyond stereotypes and stigma!

– DREAmS Lab (@DREAmSLabUSC) November 10, 2021

Our next study looked at what it would take to transform the medical model of autism science into a neurodiversity model.

“The discrepancy between what is currently being researched, what community members expect from the research, and who is allowed to make those decisions, could well contribute to growing distrust of mainstream autism science in the wider community,” wrote Liz Pellicano, professor of education at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and Jac den Houting, research fellow in education at the university, a recurring feeling.

Pellicano and den Houting wrote that although the prevailing medical model “has been a key tool in shaping autism science”, its deficit-based view “has set too many limits to our knowledge of autism and how that knowledge is derived”. Taking neurodiversity seriously, they wrote, is changing the education of the next generation of autism researchers.

Tony Charman, a professor of clinical child psychology at King’s College London in the UK, tweeted that the study was an “essential introduction”.

Agree @ mds49 – An essential introduction to #autism # neurodiversity #research by a great duo @liz_pellicano and @JacdenHouting

– Tony Charman (@TonyASDorAFC) November 5, 2021

Alice Laciny, postdoc at the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research in Klosterneuburg, Austria, also tweeted her enthusiasm for the paper.

Never added anything to my # neurodiversity literature list so quickly! ????

– Alice ~ Please complete my survey ~ Laciny (@AliceLaciny) November 7, 2021

Register for the November 29th Spectrum webinar with Ari Ne’eman, a PhD student in health policy at Harvard University and president and co-founder of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. Ne’eman will discuss ways to assess clinical progress in people with autism that do not encourage them to “pass” as non-autistic.

You can now watch our October 28 webinar with Zachary J. Williams, a medical and graduate student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, who spoke about measuring alexithymia in autistic people.

That’s it for this week’s community newsletter! 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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