Skip to main content

Spectrum: Autism Research News

Community Newsletter: Autism training for Black parents, Google’s built-in gender bias

by  /  13 March 2022
Many mouths talking, overlapping speech bubbles in two shades of blue.
Illustration by Laurène Boglio

This week’s newsletter is a tale of two tweets, one marking important progress and the other a lack thereof.

On Monday, the journal Autism highlighted a paper about a new parent training program, Spectrum of Care, developed by the Black community for the Black community. Michele Villalobos, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and part of the research team, wrote the journal’s thread about the work.

The team wanted to take advantage of the success of training programs for parents of autistic children, and to craft an intervention that integrated Black families’ “cultural heritage and assets,” the thread explains. “Few studies have included Black families or acknowledged ongoing historical trauma and engagement in medical research.”

They worked with 147 Black parents over three years and followed up with surveys and semi-structured interviews. After the training, parents generally reported higher ratings of empowerment, efficacy and confidence.

“The race-based trauma that Black people experience remains invisible, unaddressed, and unacknowledged in autism research,” the thread concludes. “The Black parent voices in Spectrum of Care have made it clear, we must acknowledge their history and process in our work moving forward.”

“Check out this amazing paper,” tweeted Iheoma U. Iruka, founding director of the Equity Research Action Coalition, a faculty fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and part of the research team.

Meghan Miller, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California, Davis, also retweeted the paper, commenting that it was “really important work.”

Timothy Verstynen, associate professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, created a Twitter stir on Tuesday — International Women’s Day — when he tweeted an interesting observation about how Google classifies famous neuroscientists.

Spectrum readers might recognize several names from the thread, including such luminaries as Marlene Behrmann, Carla Shatz and Patricia Goldman-Rakic — pegged by Google as “university teachers,” not scientists.

Lorna Quandt, assistant professor in educational neuroscience at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., called out Google’s dubious distinction between “university teacher” and “professor” with a sad/frustrated face emoji.

Jason Fleischer, assistant teaching professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego, responded that, after Googling about 50 academic women, his “eyeball meter says that the problem seems to often happen when females have complicated titles that the AI tries to round down to something simpler.”

The rounding down isn’t always wrong, he continues, although it would be better if it added “highly influential” or maybe “par excellence.” But sometimes, “its really just WTF.”

That’s it for this week’s Community Newsletter! If you have any suggestions for interesting social posts you saw, feel free to send an email to [email protected].

Cite this article: