Autism Intervention Research Needs an Ethics Overhaul: Conflicts of Interest and Adverse Event Reporting

In this webinar, we will discuss three interconnected issues related to researcher ethics; research quality, conflicts of interest, and adverse effect reporting. Systematic reviews have repeatedly shown that a large proportion of autism research fails to meet established quality indicators. One reason why low-quality research may persist is because researchers do not protect against conflicts of interests (COIs) they may hold. Recent work in our lab has found that conflicts of interest (COIs) are widespread, and rarely reported in autism research. COIs occur when the researcher stands to gain when their research shows specific results (that an intervention is effective, for example), and can lead to researcher bias which threatens the integrity of the research and erodes public trust.

We have also conducted a study indicating that monitoring and reporting adverse events that occur during intervention trials is rare in autism research. This makes it difficult for autistic people, families, and practitioners to weigh potential benefits of an intervention against potential negative effects of participation. Improvements in disclosing COIs and reporting adverse events should be top priorities in efforts to improve autism research quality.


Dr. Kristen Bottema-Beutel

Associate Professor of Special Education

Chair, Doctoral Advisory Committee, Doctoral Program in Curriculum and Instruction

Director, Certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Lynch School of Education and Human Development, Boston College

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