Tuesday Thoughts: The Conversation

This past weekend I attended a training on administering the ADI-R, a diagnostic measure for autism spectrum disorders.  This training was scheduled from 8 AM to 5 PM, Saturday through Sunday.  At first, I thought, “goodbye weekend, nice knowing you,” but as I prepared for the training last week, I came to appreciate several things about this measure and was even (dare I say it?) a little excited to learn more during the training.

For some background, the ADI-R is an interview between a clinician or researcher and the parent or caregiver of an individual who could potentially have autism.  There are 93questions in the interview, each designed to get at a certain aspect of behavior associated with autism.

One of the things that stuck out me was a sentence I came across in the manual for the ADI-R:

… from the point of view of the [clinician], the interview needs to be highly focused, rigorous in its coverage, and thorough in its resolution of discrepancies; however, the [parent] should perceive the interview as a relaxed conversation about matters that are felt to be important in the family.

The interview should be a conversation.  This concept aptly captures my view on the public communication of science, especially in terms of autism.  Autism researchers should be highly focused and rigorous in their pursuit of the cause of this disorder. They should also be thorough in resolving discrepancies between scientific findings.  But the public should be introduced to autism research in the form of a relaxed conversation about matters that are felt to be important in the family. Parents of children with autism don’t need to hear about significant p-values or double-blinding.  What the scientific community should provide is a conversation, one that explains how findings relate to every day life with an autistic child.

Starting this conversation may sound tricky or even impossible, especially to a researcher with publications to submit and grants to propose. But when it comes to scientific research, the risk of an uninformed or potentially misled public is too great.  It’s time for us to talk.

Reference: Rutter, M., Le Couteur, A., Lord, C. (2008). Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised. Los Angeles, CA: Western Psychological Services. 

Photo credit: http://blog.keepstream.com/2011/02/twitter-chats-hashtag-conversations/

 {This post was originally published at my previous blog, http://postitjunkie.blogspot.com/}