My time interning at the Center for Autism Research has taught me valuable lessons about social justice work as well as how I can actively be more involved. Before beginning my internship, I thought of social justice and social justice work as being large in scope, however, I have now realized that social justice can simply mean working to accomplish any ends that benefit the community. The term social justice is not exclusive to helping refugees or volunteering for an organization working to end world hunger, it can be on a much smaller scale and much more personal.
Thus, at the beginning of my internship, I had some trouble seeing how CAR was directly linked to social justice work. It took some time and experience at the center, but I now understand that every project I assisted with at the Center for Autism Research benefitted the community and therefore was extremely valuable work and falls into the category of social justice. If I could go back to when I first started my internship and give myself advice, I would let myself know that social justice comes in many different forms. Those forms are not always so apparent but it is important to look at projects and assignments from multiple angles in order to understand how they are currently benefitting or can potentially assist children with autism, their families, and the community.
I would also let myself know that research projects take time and it is important not to rush the process. My supervisor tasked me with watching several videos from the Infant Brain Imaging Study (IBIS). This study looks at infants that are at high risk for autism because they have an older sibling on the spectrum as well as low-risk infants and brings them in at multiple time points for neuroimaging and behavioral assessments. I watched videos of the behavioral assessments and recorded each time that the clinician tried to get the participant’s attention and differentiated between bids that used name calls and other types of bids. This was a long process, however, at the end, I was able to compile the data and actually find trends. When I showed these trends, such as increased number of bids over time and more types of bids used for kids that eventually were diagnosed with autism, to my supervisor, she was so excited. I had gone through the classic research process of collecting data, finding trends, asking questions, and generating hypotheses. Now, we are looking at even more videos of behavioral assessments to collect additional data and to determine whether my hypotheses hold up with a larger sample.
I would give this same advice to other people interested in pursuing an internship or a career in autism research as well, that they should take their time and investigate multiple perspectives. I would also advise them to take advantage of the resources around them. This could mean asking other people in the office questions about their daily work or reaching out to other professionals in the field and learning about their career paths. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has this directory that I have found extremely valuable for researching career options and making connections.
I am sad that my time at the Center for Autism Research is coming to a close but I am
grateful for all that I have learned and for the research projects I have had the opportunity to impact!