An illustration of a hand pointing a finger at a stack of papers.
Illustration by Rebecca Horne
Illustration by Rebecca Horne

Autism in Adulthood gets its first impact factor

The 4-year-old journal focuses on research that aims to improve the lives of autistic adults.

Editor’s Note

This article was updated on 4 August to provide context about the impact factor.

Listen to this story:

The journal Autism in Adulthood has received an impact factor of 6.8 for 2022 — its first score since its launch in 2019 — according to Clarivate’s 2023 update to its Journal Citation Reports. It is among 9,136 journals that received an impact factor for the first time in 2022.

The metric — which tracks a journal’s average citation rate during the previous two years — vaults Autism in Adulthood “to the top of the list of autism journals” and places it among the most-cited developmental psychology journals, says David Mandell, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and former editor-in-chief of Autism, which has a 2022 score of 5.2.

The score for the new journal reflects a high level of interest in research on autistic adults, Mandell says, and suggests that Autism in Adulthood’s editors have solicited “high-quality science.”

Autism in Adulthood’s most-cited article is a perspective that advises autism researchers on how to avoid ableist language; it was referenced 130 times during the prior two years. Critics of the impact factor have said that relying on citations of editorials and other “front of the book” content can artificially inflate the score, as can a few highly cited outliers published in a journal.

Journal self-citation — when an article in a journal cites other articles published in the same journal — can also artificially inflate a journal’s impact factor. Autism in Adulthood retains the highest impact factor among autism journals even when self-citations are excluded from the calculation, according to Clarivate.

The journal “excels” when it comes to qualitative papers and papers focused on lived experience, says Zachary Williams, an autistic medical and doctoral candidate at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, who has published in the journal but is not on its editorial board.

But research about autistic adults remains in its infancy — autism was long pigeonholed as a childhood condition — and Autism in Adulthood’s gaps reflect that. It has never published a multi-site randomized controlled trial, for example, notes the journal’s founding editor-in-chief, Christina Nicolaidis, professor in the School of Social Work at Portland State University in Oregon.

Qualitative work can be “extraordinarily helpful” in building theory that should guide research, Mandell says. “At some point, we have to move beyond theory building.” He says he hopes to see more rigorous quantitative research about autistic adults as well.


utism in Adulthood — like Nicolaidis’s other project, the Academic Autism Spectrum Partnership in Research and Education (AASPIRE) — was founded to prioritize research that aims to improve the lives of autistic adults. Nicolaidis co-founded AASPIRE with Dora Raymaker, an autistic research associate professor also at Portland State University’s School of Social Work, and Raymaker is now an editor at Autism in Adulthood as well.

Since its inception, the journal has had autistic people on the editorial team, at least one autistic reviewer on every paper, briefs that explain why the research reflects community priorities, first-person “insight essays” and an anti-ableist language policy — features that some other autism journals have since adopted.

“I think that there’s a general wave in autism research that Autism in Adulthood may have been the first to catch,” Mandell says, related to the philosophy of “nothing about us without us” — the idea that “autistic people should have a powerful voice in autism research.”

The new impact factor, Nicolaidis says, is a “real validation” of the journal’s approach, showing that including many different perspectives in research and prioritizing the needs of the autistic community is “not in opposition to traditional metrics.”

For Raymaker, the new impact factor is “yet again more proof that doing things that engage community actually strengthen your science. They don’t weaken it.”

“We’re inching, inching, inching along,” Nicolaidis says. “We have so much to go as a field. But I’m hopeful that ultimately the journal really can help and have, ultimately, people lead the lives they want to lead.”