Jennifer Stevenson’s Research
Measuring Autistic Traits
Both autistic and non-autistic individuals vary in their level of autistic traits; in fact, autistic traits are normally distributed in both groups of individuals.
In this line of research, Dr. Stevenson investigates measurement issues related to assessing autistic traits. For example, some researchers categorize non-autistic people as having either low or high levels of autistic traits; however, researchers do not agree on either the scoring method or the categorization method. In a recent paper, Stevenson and Hart (2017) investigated whether scoring method and categorization method affects reliability of the most common measure of adult autistic traits (the Autism-Spectrum Quotient) in college students. Dr. Stevenson is now considering the same question in autistic adults and the general population. Similarly, Dr. Stevenson and her collaborators have also explored how context affects the number of autistic traits you self-report. Gernsbacher, Stevenson, and Dern (2017) found that autistic and non-autistic adults’ self-report of autistic traits depends on whether they are communicating or interacting with autistic or non-autistic people.
Identifying Strengths and Weaknesses in Autistic Cognition
To truly understand an individual or a group of people, you must understand not only their weaknesses, but also their strengths. For too long, researchers have focused on the struggles of individuals on the autism spectrum; Dr. Stevenson strives to maintain a balance in her research on autistic cognition by exploring both strengths and weaknesses.
Whereas non-autistic people tend to prefer to process information at the global level (i.e., the bigger picture), autistic people tend to be more flexible in their processing which gives them an advantage when processing information at the local level (i.e., the details). Dr. Stevenson is currently examining hierarchical (i.e., global versus local) processing in autism, and recently published a preliminary study on the role of musical experience in hierarchical auditory processing in college students (Black, Stevenson, & Bish, in press). Dr. Stevenson is also interested in whether autistic individuals’ weakness in praxis, or the ability to plan and execute a sequence of motor actions may help explain their difficulties in social communication. Stevenson, Lindley, and Murlo (in press) examined how early motor skills relate to current language skills by interviewing with parents of autistic children; Dr. Stevenson and her students are currently examining current-day motor and language skills in autistic children in the laboratory.