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Issue 8, April 2022

Welcome to our CAAR Spring 2022 Newsletter!
In this issue you will find links to events, articles and more!
Improving the Lives of Autistic People and their Families and Carers. Online Event 29th June 2022, 9:00am - 3:00pm
Online event on 29th June 2022 09:00 - 15:00hrs

Autism diagnoses have been on the rise in the UK for several years, with recent analysis finding a substantial increase in autism prevalence rates in UK schools between 2010 and 2019. Autism affects 1–2% of the UK population, or 1 in every 100 children and 2 in every 100 adults. In accordance to the number of referrals in the system, there are around 100,000 children and 1,000,000 adults with autism in the United Kingdom.

The event will examine how a multi-agency approach can be used to support people with autism and their families and carers to allow them to have more possibilities to thrive in society and have better access to the help they require throughout their lives.

Click or copy-paste the following link to book the event:
https://igpp.org.uk/checkout/order/24712

You can access the agenda and further details about speakers, overview, etc.  here.

Professor Mark Brosnan (CAAR) will be a speaker on this event!
Congratulations to Dr Tom Arthur

Dr Tom Arthur is involved in a new study into the causes of sensorimotor impairments prevalent among autistic people could pave the way for better treatment and management in the future, say psychologists.

Publishing findings in the leading journal BRAIN, the scientists from the universities of Exeter and Bath present fresh evidence that sensorimotor difficulties associated with autism are likely caused by a number of complex and precise neurobiological processes, including differences in the way autistic people perceive the world around them.

Congratulations to Dr Kate Cooper

We’re excited and delighted that Kate will be staying with us at CAAR!


Dr Kate Cooper was awarded a three-year NIHR-funded fellowship titled "How should health services adapt to meet the needs of autistic people with gender dysphoria?" in 2019. She is passionate about working with the autism community to conduct research and to improve health care services. See here for further information about this project, as well as for access to training materials for healthcare clinicians working with this group.

A Big Thank You to George Neville who introduced Dyspraxia and led our follow-up from our initial meeting 'Autism and Neurodiversity: Working together to understand better and prompt equality, inclusion and acceptance'

"At the not so tender age of 26, I realised I had been disabled my entire life.  A year before finishing my PhD in Chemistry, I had no reason to suspect I had a learning difficulty. But I’ve come to terms with the fact that dyspraxia affects me in lots of ways, some of which I’m still finding out! From spilling coffee daily to struggling with socks… buttons, bottles, laces, ties (don’t even talk to me about cling film!) This is the story of how I reconciled my relationship with academia after realising that I’d never, no matter how hard anyone tried, figure out how to eat spaghetti."

Dyspraxia is only one of the many conditions that make up the neurodivergent spectrum. During neurodiversity celebration week, Tori, Nahory and George provided a space and invited neurodivergent people and those interested in supporting and accepting neurodiversity, to this informal meeting of the University of Bath Neurodiverse Community. 

George shared his lifelong experience introducing Dyspraxia, how it looks in adulthood, its challenges and strengths. This was followed by an open discussion on how to build a neurodiversity community and increase awareness and support at the University of Bath. We provided ideas and plans to continue offering this safe space.

We hope to continue providing an opportunity to have this forum for neurodivergent people to share their experiences, ask any questions, provide peer support, and enjoy! Remember, you are not alone. Everyone studying or working at the University of Bath is welcome! you can also lead a talk or just attend whenever you can. We hope to see you there! George will write an article about Dyspraxia and will be published here.

If you would like to join our EDI Neurodiversity Microsoft Teams Group please contact your faculty librarian or send an email to nbshm20@bath.ac.uk 

(Note: There is no cost to be a member, all is free and ran by neurodivergent students)

George, Tori & Nahory
Thank you!

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Dr Chris Ashwin gave a talk about empathy in autism delivered by Springfields Academy in Wiltshire


Dr Chris Ashwin (CAAR)  gave a talk about empathy in autism to a group of teachers and clinicians as part of A-Fest.

To access more events like this click here.

Using Incorrect Cut-Off Values in Autism Screening Tools: The Consequences for Psychological Science
Lucy H.Waldren, Lucy A.Livingston, Rachel A.Clutterbuck, Mitchell J.Callan, Esther Walton, and Punit Shah

The 10-item Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ10) is frequently used to screen for high autistic traits in clinical practice and research. For the past decade, however, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has recommended the use of an incorrect ≥7 cut-off value, instead of the correct ≥6 value specified in the original research on the AQ10. Our inspection of the literature suggests that this discrepancy has proliferated across research, generating confusion over the past decade. After examining use of the AQ10 cut-offs in previous research, we drew on five datasets (overall N = 7612) to empirically test the consequences of applying different AQ10 cut-off values for the interpretation of research. Our analyses showed that a one-point difference in the AQ10 cut-off – the error made in the NICE guidelines – significantly changed the effect sizes of autism-related associations in 3 of the five datasets by up to 59.75% and made the relationships non-significant in two datasets. This demonstrates that the (mis)use of the AQ10 cut-off can be consequential for research, hence we discuss the urgent need to establish and apply appropriate autism screening cut-off values in future research.
Predictive sensorimotor control in autism
Autism spectrum disorder has been characterized by atypicalities in how predictions and sensory information are processed in the brain. To shed light on this relationship in the context of sensorimotor control, we assessed prediction-related measures of cognition, perception, gaze and motor functioning in a large general population (n = 92; Experiment 1) and in clinically diagnosed autistic participants (n = 29; Experiment 2). In both experiments perception and action were strongly driven by prior expectations of object weight, with large items typically predicted to weigh more than equally-weighted smaller ones. Interestingly, these predictive action models were used comparably at a sensorimotor level in both autistic and neurotypical individuals with varying levels of autistic-like traits. Specifically, initial fingertip force profiles and resulting action kinematics were both scaled according to participants’ pre-lift heaviness estimates, and generic visual sampling behaviours were notably consistent across groups. These results suggest that the weighting of prior information is not chronically underweighted in autism, as proposed by simple Bayesian accounts of the disorder. Instead, our results cautiously implicate context-sensitive processing mechanisms, such as precision modulation and hierarchical volatility inference. Together, these findings present novel implications for both future scientific investigations and the autism community.

For this study, researchers used state-of-the-art mobile eye-tracking and motion capture technology to understand more about the causes of these difficulties and how they might be better managed. Enlisting over 150 people both with and without autism, they tested a number of processes and mechanisms associated with sensorimotor difficulties. Most significantly, they found that many processes that were previously thought to underpin these movement difficulties in autism actually do not appear to be impaired.

The research is part of a South West Doctoral Training Partnership studentship in affiliation with the ESRC and was led by Tom Arthur - a PhD student at both the universities of Exeter and Bath.

Anxiety biases audiovisual processing of social signal
 
In everyday life, information from multiple senses is integrated for a holistic understanding of emotion. Despite evidence of atypical multisensory perception in populations with socio-emotional difficulties (e.g., autistic individuals), little research to date has examined how anxiety impacts on multisensory emotion perception. Here we examined whether the level of trait anxiety in a sample of 56 healthy adults affected audiovisual processing of emotion for three types of stimuli: dynamic faces and voices, body motion and dialogues of two interacting agents, and circles and tones. Participants judged emotion from four types of displays – audio-only, visual-only, audiovisual congruent (e.g., angry face and angry voice) and audiovisual incongruent (e.g., angry face and happy voice) – as happy or angry, as quickly as possible. In one task, participants based their emotional judgements on information in one modality while ignoring information in the other, and in a second task they based their judgements on their overall impressions of the stimuli. The results showed that the higher trait anxiety group prioritized the processing of angry cues when combining faces and voices that portrayed conflicting emotions. Individuals in this group were also more likely to benefit from combining congruent face and voice cues when recognizing anger. The multisensory effects of anxiety were found to be independent of the effects of autistic traits. The observed effects of trait anxiety on multisensory processing of emotion may serve to maintain anxiety by increasing sensitivity to social-threat and thus contributing to interpersonal difficulties.

Access the article here.
Adapting health services to meet the needs of autistic people with gender dysphoria
This research aims to ensure autistic people with gender dysphoria get the right support and help NHS clinicians to better understand the needs of this group.
 
Transgender is a term used to describe people with gender identities that are different from their birth sex. Gender dysphoria describes some transgender people who experience distress in relation to a mismatch between their gender identity and sex assigned at birth.

The NHS provides Gender Identity Clinics, which offer treatment to this group. Between 5%-26% of people accessing gender clinics are autistic. Autism is a life-long developmental condition defined by differences in social communication and repetitive behaviours, interests or activities.

As the rate of autism in the general population is 1%, autistic people are significantly over-represented in gender clinics. However, there is little research about what it is like to be autistic and experience gender dysphoria.

Follow this link to access further information about this project.

You can also access the pre-clinic autism information form for free. Download this resource, which is designed to shared with autistic patients before their first meeting in a clinical setting.
An Empirical Evaluation of Methodologies Used for Emotion Recognition via EEG Signals
 
A goal of brain–computer-interface (BCI) research is to accurately classify participants’ emotional status via objective measurements. While there has been a growth in EEG-BCI literature tackling this issue, there exist methodological limitations that undermine its ability to reach conclusions. These include both the nature of the stimuli used to induce emotions and the steps used to process and analyze the data. To highlight and overcome these limitations we appraised whether previous literature using commonly used, widely available, datasets is purportedly classifying between emotions based on emotion-related signals of interest and/or non-emotional artifacts. Subsequently, we propose new methods based on empirically driven, scientifically rigorous, foundations. We close by providing guidance to any researcher involved or wanting to work within this dynamic research field.

Access the article here.
An Empirical Evaluation of Methodologies Used for Emotion Recognition via EEG Signals
Naomi Heffer, Molly Gradidge, Anke Karl, Chris Ashwin, Karin Petrini
 
Background
Emotion perception is essential to human interaction and relies on effective integration of emotional cues across sensory modalities. Despite initial evidence for anxiety-related biases in multisensory processing of emotional information, there is no research to date that directly addresses whether the mechanism of multisensory integration is altered by anxiety. Here, we compared audiovisual integration of emotional cues between individuals with low vs. high trait anxiety.

Methods
Participants were 62 young adults who were assessed on their ability to quickly and accurately identify happy, angry and sad emotions from dynamic visual-only, audio-only and audiovisual face and voice displays.

Results
The results revealed that individuals in the high anxiety group were more likely to integrate angry faces and voices in a statistically optimal fashion, as predicted by the Maximum Likelihood Estimation model, compared to low anxiety individuals. This means that high anxiety individuals achieved higher precision in correctly recognising anger from angry audiovisual stimuli compared to angry face or voice-only stimuli, and compared to low anxiety individuals.

Conclusions
Individuals with high trait anxiety have multisensory mechanisms that are especially fine-tuned for processing threat-related emotions. This bias may exhaust capacity for processing of other emotional stimuli and lead to overly negative evaluations of social interactions.

Access the article here.
Good Practice in Autism Education. Discover the best practices in autism education and learn how to create an inclusive curriculum for autistic children.
Following World Autism Acceptance Day, starting on Monday (April 4th), CAAR are running a free online course ‘Good Practice in Autism Education’

Support autistic children in the classroom

Do you want to improve your understanding of autism and learn good practice in autism education?  This 4-week course tackles crucial questions about autism education to ensure that children on the autism spectrum are educated to their greatest potential.

 
Understanding autism in education 
The course will begin by exploring your understanding of autism, including the signs, symptoms, diagnosis, and potential causes. You’ll explore how special educational needs and disabilities can affect a child’s ability to learn. Inclusivity in the classroom is extremely important, so you’ll explore how to develop an inclusive curriculum for autistic students. You’ll also learn about the many modalities of schooling for students with autism, including general special schools, autism-specific special schools, autism units within mainstream schools, and being in a mainstream classroom.

Click here to access the course.
 
Who is the course for?
The primary target audience are those who work with autistic children in schools, such as teachers and teaching assistants. However all practitioners can benefit (eg speech and language therapists). The target age range is compulsory education (4-18 years). The course will also be of benefit to interested parents of autistic children, as well as the autistic community themselves.

The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
Resources to 'Adapting health services to meet the needs of autistic people with gender dysphoria.'
Online resources: Adapting health services to meet the needs of autistic people with gender dysphoria
 
New resources have been published online to increase understanding of autistic people who experience gender dysphoria. The resources are based on qualitative interviews with 68 stakeholders, including autistic adolescents and adults who had experienced gender dysphoria, the parents of adolescents, and clinicians working with this group.
 
The resources were co-developed with a group of autistic and transgender people, and include:
  • Illustrated accessible research summaries
  • Pre-clinic autism worksheet to help clinicians learn about their patient’s autism-related needs
  • Two training videos aimed at NHS clinicians who want to learn about the intersection of autism and gender dysphoria, and how to adapt their practice when supporting this patient group
These can be found here.
If the link does not work you can access it: https://www.bath.ac.uk/projects/adapting-health-services-to-meet-the-needs-of-autistic-people-with-gender-dysphoria/
Perhaps you would like to know some information before meeting autistic people as a professional. If you are an autistic person and would like to use the form to provide you with some structure of the information you may want to share with a health professional you are meeting, please feel free to access the form.

To access the form you can click here and it will take you to the pdf that you can download for free. 
What about us - Podcast

If you find podcasts a good way to access information, you can follow this one!

If the link does not work, try to copy-paste the following link:

https://www.whataboutuspodcast.com/

Here is also the twitter to the podcast: https://mobile.twitter.com/WAU_Podcast
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Thank you for your engagement!
Remember you can join our CAAR Database so you can participate and receive news about our projects and research studies!

A wonderful thanks to CAAR researchers and professionals that sent material and supported this Spring Issue 2022!
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