As Google demonstrates, there are many sources of information about autism. But Google and other search engines give no clues as to the credibility of any source. If you want reliable information drawn from research, it is best to get it “first hand” from the professional journals that publish research, the person or persons who conducted the research, or the associated web sites. This section offers a few tips on where and how to search for evidence-based sources on autism and autism research. For a more in-depth discussion, please consult OAR’s A Parent’s Guide to Research.
The challenges of learning about and understanding autism include:
- Narrowing the search
- Sifting through the array of information
- Determining what applies to your child
Broadcast and Print Media
With rising awareness of autism, you will see reports through news outlets on television, in newspapers, and in magazines. These sources often cite useful references and report scientific research in condensed form within the limited context of the “story.” It is important to remember that these stories and features are intended to be informational. Don’t consider them as primary sources of evidence-based information.
For primary sources—research reports by the scientists who conduct the studies—consult professional journals. These publications submit articles to a process called “peer review“—evaluation by professional peers—before publishing them. Thus, the articles that appear in professional journals reflect the best of current research.
Resources and information accessed via the Internet can be very difficult to evaluate. Here are things to look for in a website that imply higher reliability and evidence-based information:
- Links to other known, credible sites (eg. autism organizations, research institutions, and professional research articles)
- Is hosted by government agencies or nonprofit organizations with demonstrated expertise
- Clearly cites primary source information
Searchable Online Databases
Online databases retrieve information using a “keyword” system, i.e. they identify all articles that contain the keyword. They are very easy-to-use. The disadvantage is that queries often produce more information than the average person needs or can possibly review. Some online databases are for members only and only accessible to the general public through university libraries. Here are two databases that are accessible to the general public:
PubMed (Medical Publications) — maintained by the National Library of Medicine at the NIH. It contains an extensive collection of medical and psychological literature.
ERIC (Education Resources Information Center) — supported by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, and the National Library of Medicine. ERIC contains an extensive collection of literature in the field of education. It is an excellent source of school-based research.
Medical and University Libraries
Medical and university libraries contain a wealth of autism research. The libraries have searchable databases that are usually more comprehensive than those you can access from home. These also hold collections of professional journals, and they have reference librarians who can you with your search efforts.
Article Location Services
There are several good article location services that will either email, fax, or mail copies of articles to subscribers. There is a fee for these services, and users must subscribe to these services.
Contacting Individual Researchers
Researchers frequently welcome inquiries about their research projects and often provide reprints of their articles to interested parents. The best way to contact researchers is through email. Contact information can be found in the author’s information in the article or abstract, agency or corporate Web sites, or by conducting a “person” search on a university (for university-based research).