Scientific and societal interest in autism has burgeoned in the past decade, as documented by nearly 20 million websites, over 30,000 entries in PubMed, and a weekly focus on autism by the national media. But with this surge of scientists and society turning their attention toward autism, it becomes exceedingly important to distinguish uninformed stereotype from scientific reality, to move beyond myths and misconceptions. In one line of my autism research I have empirically questioned several commonly held assumptions:
- Is there an epidemic of autism?
- Does ABA therapy cure autism?
- Can autism be diagnosed by brain imaging?
- Is autism an attachment disorder?
- Is autism universal?
- Is autism “common, heritable, and harmful?”
- What is neural diversity?
- When thinking about autism, why does the public focus on children rather than adults?
- Do autistic persons “lack a theory of mind?”
- Do autistic persons lack reciprocity?
- Do autistic persons have “broken mirror neurons?”
- Do autistic persons understand “intentionality?”
- Why does joint attention look atypical in autism?
- Are there other ways to signal joint attention besides through pointing and looking?
- Is joint attention related to language development?
- How do autistic persons learn?
- Is autistic language development deviant — or just delayed?
- Do autistic persons understand sarcasm, metaphors, and other figurative language?
- Is echolalia (repeating what someone has said) unique to autism?
- Do autistic children produce more words than they understand?
- Is the production-comprehension lag diminished or reversed in autism?
- Does person-first language accentuate stigma?
- Do puzzle pieces evoke negative associations?
- Who bears responsibility for “more appropriate communication”?
In autism research, are we reaching for relevance, drawing biased interpretations, from the eye of the beholder, ignoring the true meaning of research participation, and dehumanizing autistics?
In other lines of my research, I have empirically explored the question of why some autistic children struggle with speech and manual gestures, investigated the overlap between language delay within and outside the autism spectrum, and differentiated between speech and language.
Lastly, I am involved with Professor Hill Goldsmith (who also happens to be my husband) to explore the heritability of autism, as currently defined.