mouths forming a conversation
Illustration by Laurène Boglio
Illustration by Laurène Boglio

Community Newsletter: Ethical questions for autism researchers and a tribute to Dinah Murray

In this week’s Community Newsletter, we look at a paper on ethical considerations for biomarker research and early interventions plus a tribute to the late autistic autism researcher Dinah Murray.

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

Autism Twitter tackled some difficult ethical questions this week around biomarkers and early interventions. The discussion kicked off when Arianna Manzini, a research associate in the ethics of autonomous systems at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, tweeted about her new review.

After reviewing the current research and analyzing its ethical implications, Manzini and her colleagues considered whether early interventions are as beneficial as many people think.

“If autism ‘symptoms’ are in fact the result of necessary adjustments or responses to an atypical starting state, intervening early on these ‘symptoms’ might have negative implications on other functions they compensate for,” they wrote.

That section resonated with a pseudonymous autistic anesthetist on Twitter — and other autistic people and autism researchers alike.

Manzini and her colleagues gave various recommendations, including making sure there is dialogue among autistic researchers, ethicists, autistic people and their families and that research into early interventions is cross-disciplinary, integrating methodologies from the humanities and social sciences.

Autism researchers such as Elizabeth Shephard, assistant professor at the University of Nottingham in the U.K., and Sue Fletcher-Watson, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Edinburgh in the U.K., hailed the review as “excellent.”

The field also remembered autistic autism researcher Dinah Murray on Twitter this week, following up on a tribute in Autism by Wenn B. Lawson, teaching fellow at the University of Birmingham in the U.K.. Murray was a visiting lecturer and tutor at the University of Birmingham, co-founder of the nonprofit Autism & Computing and co-developer of the theory of monotropism, which describes autistic people’s hyperfocus on and draw to restricted interests.

“I hope this letter draws attention to the breadth and depth of Dinah Murray’s transformational work and inspires more autism researchers to take up her legacy,” Lawson wrote.

A number of autism researchers tweeted about the letter and Murray’s contributions to the field.

And finally, we have a great ‘tweet of the week’ from Kristen Bottema-Beutel, associate professor at Boston College in Massachusetts, about leveling up in academia.

Noah Sasson, associate professor of behavioral and brain sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas, gave Bottema-Beutel the perfect response for the reviewer.

Don’t forget to register for our 31 August webinar with Laurent Mottron, professor of psychiatry at the University of Montreal in Canada, who plans to discuss “a radical change in our autism research strategy.”

You can also register now for a 28 September webinar featuring Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, who will speak about goals for developing new drugs for autism — and the barriers researchers may encounter.

That’s it for this week’s Community Newsletter from Spectrum! If you have any suggestions for interesting social posts you saw in the autism research sphere, feel free to send an email to me at [email protected]. See you next week!