Podcast: Uncovering the digital underground

Digital therapeutics may very helpful in helping families and individuals on the spectrum. What are they? How can they be used? This week’s #ASFpodcast talks to Lani Hessen from the Digital Therapeutics Alliance who is holding a summit this week in Washington DC. There is technology that is already used to help those on the spectrum, and those that can be easily adapted or implemented in those with a diagnosis or their families. We want to hear about YOUR experience with digital technologies. Tell us more in the comments.


With just a few weeks to go until June, this week’s podcast is a short summary of the prevalence of transsexuality in the autism community and how many people are autistic in the trans community. More importantly, there are guidelines about the identification and care for those who have these co-occurring conditions. The references mentioned are below:






Last week in Stockholm, Sweden, 2200 researchers and scientists working to understand and help those on the spectrum, met to share their most recent findings and exchange ideas. What were the main takeaways as ASF saw them? In our latest podcast episode, we cover why some autistic people don’t want genetics to be studied, how to better engage families with IDD and who are non-speaking, females, adults, international studies and yes, diversity. The program book was released a day before the meeting and can be found here: https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.autism-insar.org/resource/resmgr/docs/annualmeeting/insar2023_program_book.pdf

Individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) present with a highly diverse set of challenges, disabilities, impairments and strengths. Recently, it has been suggested that researchers and practitioners avoid using certain words to describe the difficulties and impairments experienced by individuals with ASD to reduce stigma. The proposed limitations on terminology were developed by only a subset of the autism community, and the recommendations are already causing negative consequences that may be harmful to future scientific and clinical endeavors and, ultimately, to people with ASD. No one should have the power to censor language to exclude the observable realities of autism. Scientists and clinicians must be able to use any scientifically accurate terms necessary to describe the wide range of autistic people they study and support, without fear of censure or retribution.

Keywords: Vocabulary; autism spectrum disorder; bias; language.

Eye tracking has long been used to characterize differences in social attention between autistic and non-autistic children, but recent work has shown that these patterns may vary widely according to the biological sex of the participants and the social complexity and gender-typicality of the eye tracking stimuli (e.g., barbies vs. transformers). To better understand effects of sex, social complexity, and object gender-typicality on social and non-social gaze behavior in autism, we compared the visual attention patterns of 67 autistic (ASD) and non-autistic (NA) males (M) and females (F) (ASD M = 21; ASD F = 18; NA M = 14; NA F = 14) across four eye tracking paradigms varying in social complexity and object gender-typicality. We found consistency across paradigms in terms of overall attention and attention to social stimuli, but attention to objects varied when paradigms considered gender in their stimulus design. Children attended more to gendered objects, particularly when the gender-typicality of the object matched their assigned sex. These results demonstrate that visual social attention in autism is affected by interactions between a child’s biological sex, social scene complexity, and object gender-typicality and have broad implications for the design and interpretation of eye tracking studies.

Keywords: attention; eye movement; gender/female ASD; sex differences.

What do anxiety, prevalence, ketamine, other neurodevelopmental disorders, siblings, genetics, brain imaging and the autistic researcher committee at INSAR all have in common? They were all topics at the last Day of Learning. You can hear a 20 minute summary of the talks on this week’s ASFpodcast.

TikTok is overtaking the internet and many are using this platform to learn about a variety of psychiatric illnesses and psychological problems. But how accurate are these videos in sharing medical information? Could they be causing things like tics? Do they influence individuals to self-diagnose and cause mis-diagnosis? There is a new phenomenon labeled “munchausen by internet”, and while some of the videos might be helpful in raising awareness, others are just spreading lies and causing psychiatric problems. In other words: be careful about TikTok. If a social media platform shares videos that tell you to eat laundry detergent, maybe you should not listen to everything they say. Listen to this week’s podcast here.



Last week a publication (see below) was published as a commentary in the journal Autism Research. It states that researchers, parents, clinicians, educators and the overall community should not be limited in their use of language to describe the broad condition of autism. Some people experience impairments, deficits, and have limitations. Not only is it true, we should be talking about it. This podcast describes the motivation for the paper and the potential consequences of mandating the use terms that may not accurately reflect the diversity of experiences. While some papers have been published with the opposite sentiments, it’s important to understand both sides of this debate. We hope this paper leads to further conversation about this topic. Listen to the podcast here.


Children’s ability to share attention with another person (i.e., achieve joint attention) is critical for learning about their environments in general1-3 and supporting language and object word learning in particular.1,4-14 While joint attention (JA) as it pertains to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is often more narrowly operationalized as arising from eye gaze or explicit pointing cues alone,2,5,10,15-19 recent evidence demonstrates that JA in natural environments can be achieved more broadly through multiple other pathways beyond gaze and gestures.2,4,20-31 Here, we use dual head-mounted eye tracking to examine pathways into and characteristics of JA episodes during free-flowing parent-child toy play, comparing children with ASD to typically developing (TD) children. Moments of JA were defined objectively as both the child’s and parent’s gaze directed to the same object at the same time. Consistent with previous work in TD children,4,21,25,30-32 we found that both TD and ASD children rarely look at their parent’s face in this unstructured free play context. Nevertheless, both groups achieved similarly high rates of JA that far exceeded chance, suggesting the use of alternative pathways into JA. We characterize these alternate pathways, find they occur at similar levels across both groups, and achieve similar ends: namely, for both groups, targets of JA are named more frequently by parents in those moments than non-jointly attended objects. These findings broaden the conceptualization of JA abilities and impairment in ASD and raise questions regarding the mechanistic role of the face-gaze-mediated JA pathway in ASD.

Keywords: autism; development; dyadic interaction; eye tracking; joint attention; naturalistic play; social interaction.