Community newsletter: Autism acceptance training and autistic driver research

Twitter had a lot to say about a study suggesting that autistic drivers have similar or even slightly lower rates of vehicle crashes.

By Chelsey B. Coombs
24 January 2021 | 6 min read

Hi there, and welcome to the Spectrum community newsletter! I’m your host, Chelsey B. Coombs, Spectrum’s engagement editor. We used this week to recover from SfN Global Connectome, but that doesn’t mean everyone else stopped posting. Let’s jump in.

Our first post of the week comes from Desi R. Jones, a graduate student at the University of Texas at Dallas, whose thesis published in Autism, “Effects of autism acceptance training on explicit and implicit biases toward autism,” generated a lot of buzz on Twitter this week.

In the thread, Jones explains her study, which evaluated the use of training videos about autism to reduce bias in non-autistic people. That idea came from studies that show how increasing people’s knowledge about marginalized groups can decrease racial bias.

Here’s what Jones and her colleagues found:

James Cusack, chief executive of Autistica, an autism research charity based in the United Kingdom, called the study “excellent” and “much needed.”

Sara Luterman, a freelance writer whose work has been featured in Spectrum, called it “fascinating.”

And Tim Vogus, professor of management at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, who studies autism in the workplace, said that the research had “lots important implications for making workplaces more inclusive of neurodiversity.”

Jones was also featured in our podcast about the experiences of Black women in neuroscience.

Our next featured post this week includes another study from Autism: “Short report: Autistic parents’ views and experiences of talking about autism with their autistic children,” from researchers Laura Crane, Jade Davies and Liz Pellicano.

The researchers found that autistic parents “reported feeling well equipped to support their [autistic] children using their own knowledge and lived experience.” There were also few differences between how autistic and non-autistic parents spoke to their autistic children. The autistic parents said sharing their own experiences with autism increased empathy and understanding in their children. The autistic parents also “tended not to express concerns about disclosure potentially having a negative impact.”

Megan Freeth, director of the Autism Research Lab at the University of Sheffield in the U.K., said the research included “some important messages.”

Lily Levy, a child and adolescent mental health services clinician in the U.K., said she would be “sharing [this study] with autistic parents I work with after their children get a diagnosis.”

Nancy da Silva, a trainee clinical psychologist in the U.K., echoed Levy’s sentiment.

Our final post of the week comes from Michelle Dawson, an autism researcher at Hôpital Rivière-des-Prairies in Montreal, Canada. Dawson tweeted about a study from the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry called “Comparison of motor vehicle crashes, traffic violations, and license suspensions between autistic and non-autistic adolescent and young adult drivers.”

Although previous studies have suggested that autistic people may be at a heightened risk for motor vehicle crashes, this research found that “newly licensed autistic adolescent drivers have similar to lower estimated rates of adverse driving outcomes.”

That result could have policy impacts around the world, as Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam autism research associate Mitzi Waltz’s tweet suggests.

Others tweeted that it might influence the U.K.’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s policy that, according to the agency’s website, requires autistic people to report whether their diagnosis affects their ability to drive safely. Failure to disclose that information can lead to fines of up to 1,000 pounds and even prosecution if an autistic driver is involved in an accident.

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 [email protected]. See you next week!