Neighborhood E-newsletter: COVID-19 and social isolation, camouflaging and first impressions, extra on the controversial JADD examine | 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.

The first study, which sparked much discussion on social media, looked at how COVID-19 and social isolation have impacted the mental health of autistic people. It was led by Liz Pellicano, Professor of Education at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.

Our NEW paper @journalautism: The COVID-19 lockdowns have been tough for many of us. How did autistic people react? We spoke to over 140 autistic adults, adolescents and their parents about their experiences (1/9)

– Liz Pellicano (@liz_pellicano) August 10, 2021

In a Twitter thread, Pellicano wrote that the research team analyzed more than 7,000 minutes of interviews with autistic adults and parents of autistic children about their experiences.

Over 7,000 minutes of interviews, our participants shared their experiences with our team of autistic and non-autistic researchers (2/9)

– Liz Pellicano (@liz_pellicano) August 10, 2021

Some participants said they enjoyed taking a break from their typical commitments when the pandemic bans first started.

However, many people also had difficult experiences when they did not have access to schools, doctors or other support networks.

Despite stereotypes portraying autistic people as less social than non-autistic people, participants said the lack of social connections during lockdown affected their mental health.

Above all, we heard that, contrary to many autism stereotypes, our participants missed their social connections and that their mental health was impaired as a result (6/9)

– Liz Pellicano (@liz_pellicano) August 10, 2021

Tali Aderet-German, postdoctoral fellow at Aalborg University in Denmark, commented on how the stereotype of non-social autistic people “has repeatedly turned out to be wrong”.

There is a misconception among professionals and the public that autistic people don’t need friends. This turns out to be wrong over and over again.

– DR. Tali Aderet-Deutsch (@DrTaliAG) August 8, 2021

Our next thread is from Hannah Belcher, a research fellow at King’s College London in the UK, whose new study in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders examined the links between autistic camouflage, age at diagnosis, and non-autistic people’s first impressions of autism People.

Our article on the effects of autistic camouflage on first impressions in non-autistic peers and the age of diagnosis is out! With Ruth Ford @MoreinLab @WillClinPsy

– Dr. Hannah Belcher (@DrHannahBelcher) August 3, 2021

In the study, autistic and non-autistic people took the Camoufaging Autistic Traits Questionnaire and had a recorded conversation with a researcher. Then 127 non-autistic people watched 10-second excerpts from the conversations and recorded their first impressions of the participants. Little did the audience know that one of the participants was autistic.

Even when camouflaged, autistic people were rated worse compared to non-autistic people, and autistic women made better first impressions than autistic men. Additionally, autistic people diagnosed at a later age made better first impressions than those diagnosed as toddlers.

“Coupled with our finding that intentional attempts by autistic individuals to disguise their condition may not be effective in altering the impression they make on others during social interactions,” the researchers write, “it is suggested that they instead should be encouraged to adopt an autistic identity “and establish connections with like-minded people in an authentic way.”

Ann Memmott, Associate and “Expert” on the UK National Inclusion Development Team, tweeted, “We’ve set up industries to teach us how to mask and says non-autistic people would like us more if we did to do . No proof of that. “

I want us to consider the importance of this research recommendation.
We’ve set up entire industries to teach us how to mask and say that non-autistic people will like us more if we do.
No proof of that.
I blossomed when I found my neurodivergent fellow human beings and my own identity.

– Ann Memmott PGC ???? (@AnnMemmott) August 4, 2021

Finally, Sara Luterman’s Spectrum article on the controversial study from the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders study featured in this newsletter a few weeks ago sparked a lot of discussion in the community.

What happens when anti-vaccine activists get published in a legitimate magazine like the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders? Autism researchers I spoke to described disappointment, loss of confidence, and more. My newest @Spectrum.

– Sara Luterman (@slooterman) August 11, 2021

Steve Silberman, author of “NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity,” tweeted, “What on earth was the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders thinking?”

This heading has been adjusted a bit. What on earth was the Journal of #Autism and Developmental Disorders thinking? Good story in @Spectrum by @SLooterman.

– Steve Silberman (@stevesilberman) August 11, 2021

Aimee Grant, Senior Research Officer at Swansea University in Wales, said: “It feels like the editorial process at JADD has collapsed.”

It feels like the editorial process at JADD has collapsed.

Conflicts of interest are important but are not explained by the authors of several recent publications when they should have been.

– Dr. Aimee Grant ♿ (she / she) (@DrAimeeGrant) August 11, 2021

Monique Botha, Research Fellow at the University of Stirling in Scotland, tweeted, “We have had some serious problems trying to report articles that violate their ethical guidelines and COIs, including harmful research.”

We have had some serious problems trying to report articles that violate their ethical guidelines and COIs, including harmful research. I am in no way surprised. How ever.

– Monique Botha #TransRights (@DrMBotha) August 11, 2021

Don’t forget to sign up for our webinar on August 31st with Laurent Mottron, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Montreal, Canada, who wants to discuss “a radical change in our autism research strategy.”

And we’ve just added a September 28 webinar where Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, will talk about the goals of developing new drugs for autism – and the barriers researchers may encounter.

That’s it for this week’s Spectrum 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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