Image shows autism awareness infinity symbol wtih colour graduating from red at the left hand side of the symbol through the rainbow (orange, yellow, green, blue, purple) to magenta at the right hand side, with green at the centre of the symbol.
Much of my research has arisen through my interests and the happy coincidences that have allowed me to pursue them. The intense scrutiny of a particular topic has always been something I’ve enjoyed. Now I’ve found why that might be, and that in turn has opened up more possibilities.
A little while ago I watched a TV documentary on autism, and realised some of what I was seeing applied to me. The more I studied it, the clearer it became that I’m firmly on the spectrum. This was recently confirmed with a formal diagnosis.
In many ways, I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to find work that I enjoy and am good at, and have the freedom to manage how I approach it. It’s taken me a while to get to this stage, but combining a postdoc position with Open University tutoring is working well for me, and I’m getting lots of positive feedback too which is lovely. The autistic traits of focusing on special interests and having an eye for detail are useful in both roles.
This puts me in an unusual position.
There is a huge need for more research in autism. At the moment, much of the focus is on children, but most autistic people are adults. There is an emphasis on cures, and treatments to make us appear more ‘normal’, even though autistic behaviours such as lack of eye contact or stimming (self-regulating movement such as hand flapping) aren’t hurting anyone, and supressing them can be distracting, uncomfortable or even painful. Fortunately, awareness is starting to increase of a large, neglected group: autistic adults, for whom there is little support, and about whom relatively little is known.
It’s very common for mental health issues to occur alongside autism, largely because the world isn’t a user-friendly place for autistic people for many reasons. Physical health outcomes are poorer for autistic people than the rest of the population. Growing an evidence base, and exploring ways to help autistic people have a better quality of life is important work that needs to be done, and could tie in with the research experience I already have.
Research is moving to look at the neglected areas. Researchers are also increasingly involving autistic people, not only as participants, but helping carry out projects. I’m keen to be involved. I’ve been in touch with a few organisations and researchers already to see if this is realistic, and they’ve been very encouraging.
So if you would like to collaborate with an autistic researcher with expertise in mixed methods, health psychology and music psychology, here I am! I’m handy with SPSS and Qualtrics, know my way around an ethics application, and have had successful grant applications. I’ve published in peer-reviewed journals and collaborated on a Cochrane review. I’m aware that research with autistic populations needs a slightly different approach methodologically, and don’t want to find myself making mistakes here, so would love to pool my skills with collaborators who can help ensure a robust design.
I’m also happy to participate in autism research, so if I could help there do get in touch (I might like a bit of extra debrief in return…).
Note: I’ve used ‘autistic person’ rather than ‘person with autism’ because I don’t feel autism is detachable. Without it, I would be someone completely different and it’s integral to who I am, even though I didn’t realise it for so long. There is lots of debate over which should be used, and I appreciate that some people will disagree with me.