Autistic people who are psychologists

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Anemone
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31 Jul 2013, 7:26 am

Are there any autistic people who have successfully gone through and gotten a PhD in psychology? What about those who have studied it at university? How have you/they done?

I have a BSc in psychology and am considering applying to grad school, but am not sure how supportive the environment will be. When I was an undergrad in 1991 I found it autistic-unfriendly because the social demands were too high (as opposed to my previous major of geology, which was a more socially laid back environment). I don't think it will have changed, but I'm wondering if anyone's successfully navigated the environment and what they did that helped.

***
What's really frustrating for me is I want to do research, but you need to have everything approved by an ethics committee to publish it in journals, and I don't have access to that. And even if I had a PhD, I still wouldn't have access to one unless I had a job or a research partner who had a job. The degree by itself is just a union card, and doesn't guarantee access to resources.

So I guess the issue for me is how accessible is doing research on people for autistic people? Are there barriers to our becoming researchers in psychology? And am I the only one this is an issue for?

(Yes, I know about Michelle Dawson, who as far as I know is a volunteer with no university education. And Temple Grandin has published in psychology, but is an animal scientist. And I think Sophist was studying in psychology. Anyone else?)



Ettina
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31 Jul 2013, 3:18 pm

I'm currently a 3rd year undergraduate student in psychology, planning to focus on research.

I think my autism gives me an advantage, for several reasons:

* I have an obsessive interest in psychology, which really helps me focus on learning about the subject

* my autism gives me a first-hand insight into people on the autistic spectrum, or conditions overlapping with autism

* being an 'anthropologist on Mars', as Temple Grandin put it, naturally encourages the same analytical attitude to human behavior that a good psychologist (NT or otherwise) is supposed to have



Ettina
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31 Jul 2013, 3:26 pm

As for the social issue, I haven't found it particularly problematic. I don't know if it's because I'm taking psych in the 2010s instead of the early 90s, if I'm more mildly affected than you, or if it's a matter of different universities, but in both University of Saskatchewan and University of Regina, I haven't had much trouble. I do run into occasional conflict with professors, but that could be more PTSD-related than autism-related (getting irrationally scared of conflict with my prof). I find it extremely difficult to socialize with classmates or make friends, but this has never affected my ability to complete assignments because my psych classes have all given solo assignments only. About the only time an assignment directly involved social skills was when I had to give a presentation to the class in my consciousness class. I still got a good mark, but fidgeting, leaning on the projector and lack of vocal expression dropped my mark slightly.

Now, I could see psychology being very difficult for someone who doesn't have second-order theory of mind, but I never had any ToM delays, just nonverbal communication problems.



btbnnyr
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31 Jul 2013, 3:27 pm

I am currently doing autism research studies in cognitive neuroscience, autistic researcher researching autistic brains of autistic participants, and neurotypical brains too, of neurotypical participants.


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31 Jul 2013, 3:41 pm

is a PHD a degree? if so,the sister has got it,she got a distincshun[?] in hers however,after completeing the degree she realised she was in so much debt and coudnt afford the cost of a masters degree.
if she had had the money she woud have done it.
she is an aspie,though undiagnosed due to past discrimination towards females having aspergers,she got the label of social anxiety disorder instead.
she got anxiety meds from college age onwards when she did a [a] level in pyschology and fought to improve herself with a huge cabinet full of self help books.
she was unable to get any jobs-even entry level out of the pyschology ones though,she just did support work in severe mental illness with an organisation called creative support and some years later,did some qualifications which brought her up to therapist level and she became a drugs councilor for phoenix futures and also worked in prisons with male and female prisoners who wanted to get off drugs.


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btbnnyr
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31 Jul 2013, 3:47 pm

I started working on a social cognition project this summer, starting with failing the social cognition eggsperiment, I had no idear what I was doing and often screwed up answers due to overly salient visual cues on the computer screen making me automatically press wrong response buttons without stopping to think about mentalizing questions, just like the way I failed sally anne test. So I am studying social cognition while having gawdawful social cognition, but it's all verry merry berry fun.

My previous education was in chemistry, and there are differences between physical science and cognitive science and the people doing these different sciences, but not big problem for me so far.

I have decided, for my eggstraresearch hobby, I am going to create tests of visual perception that only autistic people will not fail miserably.


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Anemone
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01 Aug 2013, 12:11 pm

Thanks for the replies. I guess I may be overdoing the anxiety. When I did my undergrad in psych, the thing that killed me (of several) was the potluck for honours students. I didn't have the skill set to navigate that yet, and I didn't have anyone to help me. (No diagnosis yet either.)

One of the other things that killed me was picking the wrong honours thesis topic, then being told to write my introduction first - the opposite of what I was taught as a geology master's student. I was in serious culture shock for a while there. Still get that from time to time, but I will just breathe, and see how things go.



Callista
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01 Aug 2013, 12:16 pm

Yes, I'm going to graduate school next year, and my undergrad is almost finished.

I'm not going into clinical work. I'm interested in research, especially with human factors and cognitive psychology. I want to learn how the brain works.

I'm getting a lot of help. People at the disability services office are basically guiding me through my schoolwork, and I've had an aide once and am talking to the developmental disabilities people to see if I can hire one again.

You don't have to be neurotypical, sensitive, or extroverted to be a psychologist. It's a branch of science, and scientific and mathematical thinking is valued. Especially with research.

I'm scared I'm not going to be able to make it in graduate school, but I have to try. I just love learning too much not to try to get myself into a career in research, which is essentially being paid to learn things. That would be heaven for me.


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01 Aug 2013, 12:21 pm

In general, I recommend against pursuing a PhD in any field, for several reasons. First and foremost, universities are churning out more people with PhDs than the job market can absorb, and have been doing so for decades. So competition for teaching and/ or research jobs, as well as grant funding for research, is fierce. There are a few exceptions, including (in some countries) PhDs in clinical/ counselling psychology who work as psychotherapists (but not as researchers).

The second thing you need to know about academia is that many of its inhabitants have very big egos. This is especially true of the faculty and the upper levels of the administration. Although they are intelligent people, they mistakenly believe they are brilliant at everything. Their arrogance vastly exceeds their true competence.

The third thing you need to understand is the way academia and the great research game works. The goal is to reel in grant money and churn out publications. This does not necessarily involve performing good scientific research. If anything, the system encourages quantity over quality. At the start of the game in graduate school, you assist your advisor/ mentor with his/her research. (If his/her research interests happen to be the same as yours, then great. Otherwise, too bad for you.) Hopefully, this will lead to publications with you listed as a co-author, along with opportunities for you to present some of this research at conferences. If your advisor/ mentor is a "big name" in the field, then some of these publications will be in "major" journals. ("Big names" get all sorts of crap published in "major" journals—the peer-review system is a dismal failure.) These things will help you establish yourself in the field, and will help you obtain a job by the time you graduate—either a teaching and research job, or a pure research job. They will also help you to procure your own grant money, and get your own research published. You see, the reviewers will assume that you must be a good researcher because of the research you did with your advisor/ mentor. In short, in academia, as in the rest of life, who you know is more important than what you know.

If, despite everything I have written, you still want to go to graduate school, there are books which offer useful tips for getting into graduate school and starting a research career. If I recall correctly, the ones I read were, "The Complete Guide to Graduate School Admission: Psychology, Counseling, and Related Professions", by Patricia Keith-Spiegel and Michael W. Wiederman, and "A PhD Is Not Enough: A Guide To Survival In Science", by Peter J. Feibelman. With regards to psychology, PhD programmes in clinical psychology are highly selective and very competitive. You will need high scores from your courses (e.g. grade point average [GPA]) and any standardised tests (e.g. the Graduate Record Examinations [GRE]) in order to be admitted to such a programme. In addition, clinical and counselling psychology programmes usually interview candidates, and so problems with social / interpersonal skills might be noticed at that point. (The vast majority of people with graduate degrees in clinical or counselling psychology work as psychotherapists, so I assume that graduate programmes in clinical and counselling psychology require fairly well developed social / interpersonal skills.) PhD programmes in other areas of psychology and related fields (e.g. cognitive psychology, biopsychology/psychobiology, neuroscience, etc.) tend to have slightly lower admission criteria and somewhat less rigorous selection procedures, although this depends on the quality and reputation of the programme. Finally, since you are specifically interested in doing research on autism, you may also want to consider graduate programmes in epidemiology.

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becky13
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01 Aug 2013, 12:59 pm

Anemone wrote:
Are there any autistic people who have successfully gone through and gotten a PhD in psychology? What about those who have studied it at university? How have you/they done?

What's really frustrating for me is I want to do research, but you need to have everything approved by an ethics committee to publish it in journals, and I don't have access to that. And even if I had a PhD, I still wouldn't have access to one unless I had a job or a research partner who had a job. The degree by itself is just a union card, and doesn't guarantee access to resources.

So I guess the issue for me is how accessible is doing research on people for autistic people? Are there barriers to our becoming researchers in psychology? And am I the only one this is an issue for?


Hi Anemone :-) I have AS and a PhD in psychology (research not clinical). It was tough, but it's tough for anyone. If anything, not having a social life gave me more time to concentrate, and my ability to focus on one task came into it's own. People often complain that writing a thesis is an isolating process, but I didn't mind that. In a way it was easier than my undergraduate degree which chopped and changed around topics so much that I didn't get a chance to focus. If you google "Asperger's and university" or "Asperger's and Higher Education" you will find some things that people have written about ways of coping at university.

Best of luck with it :)

The publishing things is a whole different issue. The best way to learn about publishing is to do it, so if you do a PhD you could try and publish whilst you are studying - even if nothing gets accepted you will learn loads. Doing the research and publishing the research are also different things. To write the type of thing that will get published in peer reviewed journals is a long learning process and there's no guarantee of success even by the end of a PhD. In many ways the PhD is just the start of the journey, like an apprenticeship. As Logan5 said, having a 'big name' co-author helps, especially if they act as a mentor for your writing. If you don't have an 'institutional affiliation' and want to publish as an independent researcher, you can include a co-author who is employed by eg a university and use their ethics committee. I don't know about the cost implications for independent researchers though, as there is often a fee required to publish, which would otherwise be absorbed by your department/grant.



Anemone
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01 Aug 2013, 1:09 pm

Logan5, I replied to you privately, but will repeat some of it here.

The main reasons I want to get a PhD is because it is the union card, very helpful for independent researchers (I can't work in any kind of normal job so there's no point in thinking of that), and because I lack experience/training in working with human subjects, and lack access to an ethics committee.

For example, I have been using brainwave entrainment for a while now. I think it might be a viable alternative to medications (it mimics the effects of meditation) and would like to do a double-blind study with a control condition. I even have the files (30 minutes of gurgling water with and without the treatment condition). I could recruit subjects from here, but probably couldn't get published in a scientific journal without ethics committee approval. And proceeding with research without approval might make it hard for me to get any approval for anything later, as well. And I have no idea how to recruit an academic researcher as a partner for that. Is there somewhere I can advertise?

What I really want to study is working conditions in the performing arts. Now maybe I could just do it outside academia, and self-publish a book, but I worry about being unethical. I also worry about subjects not trusting me, which may be a completely different (confidence) issue.

I thought that if I went back for a PhD, it would give me access to further training and an ethics committee, and then if I couldn't find a supervisor doing what I want to do (and there really isn't anyone, so no "if" there) I could do it on the side while studying what my supervisor studies, hopefully closely related.

I don't know how things are going to pan out. I don't know if I will be able to get sufficient references between now and application deadline time, having been isolated on welfare for a long time. But on the other hand I have published research a few years ago (using data found online) and my coauthor, who came in at the end to rewrite it in thick academese and add his touch to it, will provide one reference.

I am going to look for volunteer work again in the next few weeks, and probably take a course this fall too, to get references. And if doors open, they open. And if they don't, I guess I go indie.



Anemone
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01 Aug 2013, 1:13 pm

becky13 wrote:
If you don't have an 'institutional affiliation' and want to publish as an independent researcher, you can include a co-author who is employed by eg a university and use their ethics committee. I don't know about the cost implications for independent researchers though, as there is often a fee required to publish, which would otherwise be absorbed by your department/grant.


How does one find a co-author??? I found one easily for my last paper, but he was tailor-made. There doesn't seem to be anyone for anything else I want to do.

I just submitted a paper to a journal that had high fees, and they gave me a waiver, but rejected the paper because no ethics committee approval, and because it wasn't an unbiased sample (it was a survey of people who choose to go barefoot, so how could it be?) So fees may not be a problem, but coauthors can be.



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01 Aug 2013, 1:25 pm

Anemone wrote:
.... And I have no idea how to recruit an academic researcher as a partner for that. Is there somewhere I can advertise?


Anemone, I have heard of (social) networking and crowd-funding/ crowd-sourcing types of websites for researchers, but I am afraid that I can not recall the names (and urls) of those sites.



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01 Aug 2013, 1:27 pm

I hate Uni.


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becky13
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01 Aug 2013, 1:38 pm

Anemone wrote:
How does one find a co-author??? I found one easily for my last paper, but he was tailor-made. There doesn't seem to be anyone for anything else I want to do.


I'm afraid I may not be very helpful with that one as I've never been an independent researcher... :? However, we do co-author papers with external authors, often 'community partners' who work for charities/voluntary organisations. One avenue might be finding a university that is engaged with community-university partnership work in your area. Some of it is plain old networking and being in the right place at the right time, neither of which I have cracked.

Anemone wrote:
I just submitted a paper to a journal that had high fees, and they gave me a waiver, but rejected the paper because no ethics committee approval, and because it wasn't an unbiased sample (it was a survey of people who choose to go barefoot, so how could it be?) So fees may not be a problem, but coauthors can be.


Nice one with the waiver, I didn't know that happened. Sorry to hear your paper was rejected, but good that you got feedback and you know what they want for next time.