As a psychologist and foster mom, I get asked about autism a lot. Usually the questions come from the latest study to hit the news. Oftentimes, the research conclusions made by the public stretch beyond the scope that the investigators intended. A prime example of this is found in this press release titled Bigger Birthweight Babies at Greater Risk of Autism. Not cool. Not accurate, not true and not cool. If you view the original article found at The American Journal of Psychiatry, just the title alone “Deviance in Fetal Growth and Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder” (Abel, Dalman, Svensson, Susser, Dal, Idring, Webb, Rai & Magnusson, 2013) suggests a more limited conclusion. It’s not bigger babies, its abnormally bigger AND smaller babies. By bigger babies, they mean at least 9 pounds 15 ounces or more. By smaller babies, they mean 5 pounds 4 ounces or less. Sound a little different now?
Here is some basic criteria when assessing the credibility of an autism study:
Go To The Original Source 1 of 5
Skip the writer's summary and go straight to source. If a link to the study isn't provided, a simple internet search of the title should suffice. Oftentimes full-text research articles aren't available without a fee; however, the abstract (summary) is always free. Additionally, more and more authors are providing links to their articles for free on their personal webpages.
Reference Check the Author 2 of 5
Is the author a professor at a university, a physician at a hospital or a researcher at a major institution? If so, that's a good sign. Is the author well-published in autism? Does he or she collaborate with other experts in the field (a good sign)? Is he or she frequently cited by his or her peers in a positive way?
Follow the funding 3 of 5
Research isn't free and money frequently comes with an agenda. A good experimenter strives to be impartial but politics inevitably plays a part and puts bacon on the table. Look in the body of the paper for an acknowledgement or thanks to a company, non-profit organization or government institution.
Check The Research Methods 4 of 5
Check the "Procedure" or "Methods" section for details about how many people were studied. Don't get bogged down with the academic terminology. Look for the basics like were the results based on 20 college freshmen in Arizona, or 6,000 elementary school students from Chicago? Were the research participants given a short survey or tracked over the course of 5 years?
Where is it published? 5 of 5
All legitimate autism studies are published in academic, peer reviewed "Journals". Some of these journals are well established and have extraordinary high standards for publication. Others, not so much. Check a basic journal ranking site or, if you want to get fancy, check the journal's Eigen value which looks at the overall impact factor.
Read more of Rebecca's writing at her Blog Here.