Scholars weigh in on new ideas about autism

July 23, 2019

By Jennifer McNulty

Psychology Professor Nameera Akhtar. Photo by Elena Zhukova

A new paper that challenges widely held ideas about autism has attracted comments from more than 30 scholars across the disciplines of psychology, anthropology, education, and neuroscience.

The authors maintain that many of the behaviors common to autism—including low eye contact, repetitive movements, and the verbatim repetition of words and phrases—are misinterpreted as a lack of interest in social engagement. On the contrary, they say, many people with autism express a deep longing for social connection.

Coauthors Nameera Akhtar, professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Vikram Jaswal, associate professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, put forth the provocative ideas in their paper, "Being vs. Appearing Socially Uninterested: Challenging Assumptions about Social Motivation in Autism."

The article appears in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, which publishes in an innovative format known as "open peer commentary." The journal specializes in "particularly significant and controversial pieces of work," which the editors publish with commentaries on each article from specialists within and across disciplines, as well as the authors' response to the input. Free online access to the paper is available here.

Read more of this story at the UCSC News center.

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