The world of autism research is broad, and it seems to be constantly changing. Each week, articles about new studies appear in our social media feeds or are reported on the nightly news, revealing new and important factors in understanding autism spectrum disorder (ASD). If you’re a member of the autism community, whether you’re a self-advocate, a parent, or an educator, you probably want to know how they might impact your day-to-day life. But how can you keep up with the latest developments in autism research? These tips and resources will help you get started.
Learn the basics.
Read critically. Unfortunately, not all studies are high quality. Some may even be misleading. OAR’s “A Parent’s Guide to Research” was created to help families who don’t necessarily have a scientific background learn to sift through autism research and use it to their benefit. The guidebook is an excellent primer and teaches readers how to identify reputable sources, determine which aspects of the study are relevant, and interpret studies accurately.
If you don’t have time to read through the entire guidebook, OAR’s online resource on navigating research is a great crash course, covering topics ranging from understanding different types of studies to determining whether your family should participate in research.
Identify your interests.
While you may want to maintain a broad understanding of autism research as a whole, there’s too much out there to keep track of everything. For example, OAR focuses on and funds applied research, which finds ways to help make life easier for the autism community, rather than research that seeks to discover the possible causes of autism. But even within applied research, there are plenty of subtopics. Maybe you are most invested in sleep studies or building reading skills. Narrowing down the type of information you most need will make it easier to stay informed. You may even want to sign up for Google Alerts using keywords (e.g. autism + diet).
Decide where to gather information.
Look for reputable sources. Autism research is complex, so beware of news articles with “clickbait” titles that may oversimplify the issues in order to increase web traffic. Find publications whose goal is to share accurate, complete scientific information in ways the general public can understand, such as “Scientific American.” If you want to read complete academic studies, some journals (PubMed and ERIC are two examples) offer free access, and some articles can be found on Google Scholar. Watching webinars or attending local autism conferences can be great sources of information as well.
Remember to breathe.
Odds are, you’re not a professional scientist, and that’s okay. ASD research spans many different scientific fields and can be complex and overwhelming. Learn what you can, but don’t feel pressured to learn everything. With the help of “A Parent’s Guide to Research” and these steps, you can stay on top of the latest discoveries.
Once you know how to read research, what you’re looking for, and where to look for it, you’re ready to get started. To learn more about using autism research to inform specific goals for your child or student, read “Research to Practice,” from the OARacle’s archives. Browse all the articles on OAR’s website related to research, including the latest news regarding autism research as a whole, to find what you are most interested in knowing.
Finding, reading, and interpreting research may seem at first to require a Ph.D. However, with some time and effort, you can become knowledgeable and informed about the topics that matter most to you.