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Spectrum: Autism Research News

Community Newsletter: Anti-racism in clinical practice, bilingualism and autism

by  /  26 September 2021
Many mouths making conversation, with speech bubbles in red and blue.
Illustration by Laurène Boglio

Hello, and welcome to this week’s Community Newsletter! I’m your host, Chelsey B. Coombs, Spectrum’s engagement editor.

I want to remind you of a new Spectrum survey about how autism researchers are approaching scientific conferences through the end of the year. Are you ready to get back to the unique in-person experience of the Society for Neuroscience conference? Or will you be watching the action from your lab (or couch)? We would be grateful if you would share your thoughts.

Our first social threads this week come from Diondra Straiton and Aksheya Sridhar, graduate students in clinical psychology at Michigan State University in East Lansing. The pair published a call to action in Autism about how clinicians in the field can help end anti-Black racism in autism assessment, treatment and care.

“Clinicians have a responsibility to understand how anti-Black racism influences access to quality assessment, accurate and timely diagnosis, autism-related services, and high-quality care for Black individuals on the autism spectrum,” they write.

They offer five recommendations, including that clinicians should listen to what Black autistic people think about their organization, remember that anti-racist learning is ongoing and become anti-racism advocates.

The paper also includes appendices with suggested anti-racism readings and training materials for clinicians. Sridhar tweeted that a website to accompany the paper is coming soon.

Autism researchers and clinicians gave the paper high praise. Sarah Edmunds, assistant professor of psychology at the University of South Carolina, tweeted that she is excited to implement these suggestions.

Kristen Bottema-Beutel, associate professor of teaching, curriculum and society at Boston College in Massachusetts, tweeted that she has added the paper to her teaching syllabus.

Also this week, Rachael Davis, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, tweeted about bilingualism and autism, based on a commentary she co-authored.

Studies show that bilingualism can benefit autistic children by strengthening family bonds and boosting self-confidence, she and her colleagues wrote. But many parents worry that it can also cause confusion or language delay. Despite no evidence supporting that view, some clinicians and educators continue to advise parents against raising their autistic children to be bilingual.

Lorna Hamilton, associate professor and associate psychology at York St. John University in the United Kingdom, as well as one of the commentary’s reviewers, wrote that it was “great to see it out in the world.”

Naima Bhana, assistant professor of special education at Niagara University in Lewiston, New York, tweeted that she has faced similar issues professionally and personally and called the piece “insightful.”

And finally, Noah Sasson, associate professor of behavioral and brain sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas, tweeted his thoughts on studies that purport to be about autistic people, but are really about autistic traits.

Clare Harrop, research assistant professor of allied health sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, tweeted her own frustrations with this practice.

“This of course would also apply to every animal study, David Mandell, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and Autism editor-in-chief, noted in reply.

Don’t forget to register for our 28 September webinar, featuring Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, who will speak about goals for developing new drugs for autism — and the barriers researchers may encounter.

That’s it for this week’s Community Newsletter! If you have any suggestions for interesting social posts you saw in the autism research sphere, feel free to send an email to me at [email protected]. See you next week!