Future Research

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Full paper: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1745691620958010

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Who: Davies & Crompton
Journal: Perspectives on Psychological Science
Published: 2021
Title: What do new findings about social interaction in autistic adults mean for neurodevelopmental research?

Autistic Adults, Social Interaction, & Future Research

Two recent theories outline the idea that autistic people aren’t inherently bad at social interaction, but that the difficulties in social interaction are bidirectional between autistic and non-autistic people. 

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These theories are the Double Empathy Problem (DEP) (that social difficulties are due to the different world experiences of autistic & non-autistic people) & the Dialectical Misattunement Hypothesis (DMH) (that over development, increasing differences in interpersonal dynamics are accumulative, leading to difficulties in cross neurotype communication)

Research would explore how autistic & non-autistic people interact with different neurotypes. This is because research has shown that autistic people are effective communicators with other autistic people.
There may be autism-specific social behaviours which lead to effective communication!

Autistic people report feelings of comfort & relaxation when with other autistic people, & that they have unique ways of engaging with one another! Autistic people feel more able to predict the behaviour of other autists, & have a better understanding of them than of neurotypical people. 

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We don’t yet know the specifics of autistic interaction, but this knowledge would be really important for reframing our understanding of autism & will contribute to the progression of the rights of autistic people.

Two really important research areas:
– understanding the mechanisms of social development in autistic people
– creation of standardised assessments to measure the change & growth of social skills in autistic people

The DMH predicts that the gaps between autistic & non-autistic people get bigger over time, so there will be more misunderstandings in social interaction over development & growth. Therefore, it’s important to consider the developmental trajectories of social mechanisms as autistic people grow up! That means you wouldn’t just measure social differences once, but a lot of different times over the lifespan. 

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If we measured dynamic changes in autistic peoples behavioural & cognitive profiles, then we can begin to understand the point at which misattunements begin to emerge, how they change over time, & what sort of mechanisms underlie autistic social communication.

Knowing these things would help us to understand which factors contribute to social development & later life outcomes for autistic people.

This is important to know, because so far autistic people’s social communication abilities have been assessed in comparison to non-autistic people, when in fact there might be completely different mechanisms underlying social communication. 

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This sort of research is really important, because it can help us to understand the impacts of social inclusion, camouflaging, mental health outcomes, & the importance of autism-specific environments and their impacts on areas such as education, health, & social care settings.

In order to do this research, we need autism-specific measures of social cognition. At the moment, our measures are based off neurotypical peoples social interactions & norms, and so autistic people often score poorly on these because they don’t account for autism-specific experiences of socialisation. The new measures should be co-produced with autistic people so that they accurately conceptualise what a successful social interaction looks like for autistic people. 

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Another reason this research is super important is that it can influence the ways we think about neurodiversity at a societal level. If we stopped thinking about autism as a divergence from neurotypical development and instead saw autism as having its own unique developmental trajectory, then we would alleviate stigma & the pressure on autistic people to mask or to act neurotypical.

It will also inform our understanding of other neurodivergencies and allow us to explore meaningful questions which will improve the lives of neurodivergent people. 

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