Episode 114: Growing Up Autistic in the Digital Age with Meryl Alper

In addition to being Henry’s former dissertation advisee, Meryl Alper is am an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Studies (College of Arts, Media, and Design) and Affiliate Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (Bouvé College of Health Sciences) at Northeastern University. At Northeastern, she studies  the social, cultural, and health implications of communication technologies, with a focus on disability, digital media, and children and families’ technology use. Her books include Digital Youth with Disabilities (MIT Press, 2014) and Giving Voice: Mobile Communication, Disability, and Inequality (MIT Press, 2017), which was awarded a 2018 PROSE Award Honorable Mention from the Association of American Publishers and the 2018 Outstanding Publication in the Sociology of Disability Award from the American Sociological Association. Her latest book, Kids Across the Spectrums: Growing Up Autistic in the Digital Age (MIT Press, 2023), explores the media and technology practices of young people on the autism spectrum, as well as what it means to be “social” in a socially mediated world.

She also drew on her professional experience in educational children’s media as a researcher, strategist, and consultant with Sesame Workshop, PBS KIDS, Nickelodeon, and Disney. In this conversation, we explore basic concepts such as “spectrum” and “neurodiversity” and what they mean for parents living with autistic children. We learn more about the methodologies she uses to learn more about families living with autism and how she incorporates the perspective of the children themselves in her research. We consider the role of schools and parents in helping to create a world where such students thrive. Above all, we dig deeper into their relationship with media, ranging from the ways media creates sensory experiences to the importance of games, from adaptive technology to fandom. We also consider how autistic people get represented across a range of media properties. And we close with the issue of what she would change about the world if she had magic powers.

Here are some of the references from this episode, for those who want to dig a little deeper:

Meryl Alper

Meryl Alper  interviewed on Imagine Otherwise podcast  
Kids Across the Spectrums: Growing Up Autistic in the Digital Age
Giving Voice: Mobile Communication, Disability, and Inequality
Digital Youth with Disabilities
T is for Transmedia

Debates about spectrum
Fandom and Neurodiversity
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 

Other Researchers
Bruno Bettelheim
Sue Fletcher-Watson
Steve Silverman Neurotribes
Kathryn Ringland
Marshall McLuhan 

Media Mentioned
Big Bang Theory
The Good Doctor
Rain Man
Sia Music
Heartbreak High Chloe Hadden
The Good Fight
Extraordinary Attorney Woo
Warrior Cats
PBS Kids
Hero Elementary

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“In Time” by Dylan Emmett and “Spaceship” by Lesion X.
In Time (Instrumental) by Dylan Emmet  https://soundcloud.com/dylanemmet
Spaceship by Lesion X https://soundcloud.com/lesionxbeats
Creative Commons — Attribution 3.0 Unported — CC BY 3.0
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