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Community newsletter: Research on camouflaging; a new epigenome

by  /  7 February 2021

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

Before we get started, I wanted to remind you about our Spectrum reader survey. We want to know what you think about our site and how we can make it even better. Participants have a chance to win one of 30 Spectrum-branded bags or notebooks, or one of our three Spectrum books. The last day to take the survey is 5 March, so please send in your feedback ASAP.

Our first post this week comes from Amy Pearson, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Sunderland in London. She tweeted about her new paper in Autism In Adulthood, “A conceptual analysis of autistic masking: Understanding the narrative of stigma and the illusion of choice.”

Masking, also known as camouflaging, refers to when an autistic person suppresses certain traits or takes up other traits to conform to social norms. You can read more on this topic in our 2018 Deep Dive, “The costs of camouflaging autism.” Pearson and her team used classical social theory to “understand how and why people mask by situating masking in the social context in which it develops.” Research suggests that camouflaging is more common in autistic women and girls, which could help explain why boys are diagnosed in greater numbers. But the researchers point out that “it is important that we do not impose gender norms and stereotypes by associating masking with a “female autism phenotype.”

In response to the paper, Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the University of Cambridge’s Autism Research Centre in the United Kingdom, wrote that it is “an important paper analysing what we mean by autistic masking and how continuing stigma towards autism may cause it.”

Psychologist Laura Jackson-Burrage tweeted in praise of Pearson’s argument that camouflaging should not be considered gender-specific, calling the paper “thought-provoking.”

Katy Benson, a post-graduate researcher at Cardiff University in the U.K. remarked that it was “timely” and a “great piece of work.”

Juuso Henrik Nieminen, a postdoctoral education researcher at the University of East Finland, echoed Benson’s tweet, saying the paper was what he had been looking for, as he “needed a more nuanced understanding of masking + stigma” for his own work.

Next up, we have a tweet from Manolis Kellis, a computer science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, about his group’s newest paper in Nature, “Regulatory genomic circuitry of human disease loci by integrative epigenomics.”

The paper discusses EpiMap, a new human epigenome reference that includes 10,000 epigenomic maps from 8,000 samples and annotates 30,000 genetic loci associated with 540 traits. Kellis calls it a “systematic dissection of disease circuitry.” The researchers say their results “demonstrate the importance of dense, rich, high-resolution epigenomic annotations for the investigation of complex traits.”

Wouter Meuleman, a computational biologist at the Altius Institute for Biomedical Sciences in Seattle, Washington, who worked on the study, called it a “roadmap on steroids.”

Trinity College Dublin autism researcher Kevin Mitchell said it was a “powerhouse study.”

Fahd Qadir, a graduate student at the University of Miami’s Diabetes Research Institute in Florida, called it “One of [his] all-time favourite preprints in 2020.”

Now it’s time for our favorite Spectrum story comment of the week! This week’s edition comes from Teresa Del Bianco, a postdoctoral researcher at Birkbeck, University of London, who called our Viewpoint article, “Autism in girls: Jumping hurdles on the path to diagnosis,” a “very insightful commentary.”

That’s it for this week’s Spectrum community newsletter! If you have any suggestions for interesting social posts you saw in the autism research sphere this week, feel free to send an email to me at chelsey@spectrumnews.org. See you next week!


TAGS:   autism, community