Group Publication: Dialog evaluation, relationship between autism and mental incapacity | Spectrum

Illustration by Laurène Boglio

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

Our first Twitter thread this week is from Kristen Bottema-Beutel, an associate professor at Boston College in Massachusetts. Her new study on autism looked at the interactions between autistic children and their caregivers using “conversation analysis”.

Our article about interactions with b / w autistic children and their caregivers is out! W / @ShanCLaPoint & @soyoonkimkang. We used a qualitative method called Conversational Analysis (CA) to reanalyze some type of conversation with the caregiver that we quantitatively analyzed 1/12

– Kristen Bottema-Beutel (@KristenBott) September 25, 2021

The way caregivers speak to autistic children is important to children’s development, and many studies of how children learn language follow instructions or speech from a caregiver relating to what a child is doing at that moment. But interventions that encourage nurses to follow-up have no lasting positive effects. Bottema-Beutel and her colleagues say that conversational analysis, “a qualitative, microanalytical research tradition that focuses on how social interactions are organized and understood by the people involved,” could be more effective.

CA requires studying long stretches of interaction to determine how social behavior is made relevant and how it shapes future interaction. This is in contrast to quantum methods, in which conversations are broken down into discrete units. With CA we found ‘follow-in instructions’ 3/12

– Kristen Bottema-Beutel (@KristenBott) September 25, 2021

The researchers applied conversation analysis to videos of caregivers playing and autistic children. The team found that when a caregiver gives an instruction such as “try now”, it gives the child a chance to interact and react more easily than if they hadn’t.

“We argue that analyzing suggestions in this manner adds a nuance to previous research on caregiver use of follow-up in a way that is useful for helping parents interact with their autistic children who are in the early stages of language learning can be useful, ”the researchers write.

We hope this type of work can shed light on how carers and their autistic children work together to build interactions, and how autistic children demonstrate their interaction skills. 12/12

– Kristen Bottema-Beutel (@KristenBott) September 25, 2021

Sue Fletcher-Watson, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, tweeted praise.

It’s a cool method!

– Sue Fletcher-Watson (@SueReviews) September 25, 2021

Linda Watson, a professor of language and hearing studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, tweeted that she found similar evidence during her PhD.

Different methods, but similarities in interpretation. We presented the results at the first annual BU conference on language development. The 46th is this November. #bucld

– DR. Linda Watson (@lindaritcwatson) September 26, 2021

Also this week, Jonathan Sebat, Professor of Psychiatry and Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, had an ongoing debate on Twitter: Is there a spectrum of characteristics or multiple autisms that can be categorized? different phenotypes? Sebat questioned the existence of autism without intellectual disability, a “holy grail” that some researchers are looking for, and said that autism exists with and without intellectual disabilities on the same spectrum.

During the autism session this morning, I asked the question, “If IQ correlates with core characteristics of ASD, then what is this holy grail that some seek from ‘autism without intellectual disability’? Couldn’t this just be the strict end of the same spectrum? 1 / n # WCPG2021

– Jonathan Sebat (@sebatlab) October 12, 2021

Sebat hypothesizes that polygenic risk scores for autism, intelligence quotient, and educational level are all related to a highly regulated neural development process due to an overlapping subset of alleles.

Hypothesis: The intersection of PSasd and PSea is a subgroup of alleles that move the needle during a neural development process (who knows … synaptogenesis, cortical thickness etc …) that is strictly regulated in neurodevelopment. 5 / n

– Jonathan Sebat (@sebatlab) October 12, 2021

Jacob Vorstman, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto in Canada, replied that autism “is not a necessary phenotype on the difficult end of the IQ spectrum” because there are people with intellectual disabilities who do not have autism.

One of the observations we need to take into account is that we are seeing people with ID but no ASD. So ASD is not a necessary phenotype at the difficult end of the IQ spectrum. Conversely – we see people with ASD and high IQ.

– Jacob Vorstman (@Jacob_Vorstman) October 12, 2021

Sebat responded that genetics are currently suggesting that autism without intellectual disabilities is on the lower end of the spectrum rather than a completely separate entity.

Yes, but people speak of “ASS without ID” … as if it were something fundamentally different. Is it? Genetics doesn’t seem to suggest that at the moment. It could simply be the milder end of the spectrum that would burden the less rare variant and PRS both

– Jonathan Sebat (@sebatlab) October 12, 2021

Don’t forget to sign up for our webinar on October 28th where Zachary J. Williams, a medical student and graduate student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, talks about measuring alexithymia in autistic people and the importance of developing and validating measures for certain populations.

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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