Review: Bellevue College’s Autism Pre-Conference

The Bellevue College’s Autism Pre-Conference

By Curtis Eayrs Jr.

I attended Bellevue College’s Autistics Present pre-conference session at South Seattle College’s Georgetown campus on Saturday, August 25th. This pre-conference was created entirely by local autistic self-advocates. The first speaker, Sara M. Acevedo, PhD, is a recently-appointed faculty member at Bellevue College. Her opening remarks as Master of Ceremonies reflected on the social consciousness of solidarity, by reimagining solidarity through mutual aid and political companionship across marginalized groups. She believes that solidarity should be a verb of action instead of a state of being. Solidarity also encompasses unity of the intersections, across race, age, disability, gender identity, and religious affiliation. This is an uplifting message that needs to be shared, especially during these politically–divisive times.

The second speaker, CrisTiana ObeySumner, spoke about intersectionality when an individual holds several disabilities. Intersectionality was defined as holding two or more socially-constructed identities. The social complexity of how people with autism react to nonverbal cues leads to implicit bias, which causes able individuals to hyperfocus on specific identities. They believe America is engaged in a civility war, where norms of politeness and respect take a back seat to politics and ideology. People need to be accomplices, not allies to ensure that all people are given an equal opportunity to survive and thrive in society.

The third speaker, Jack Duroc-Danner, spoke about mythbusting nine commonly-held beliefs about autism. These myths include:  “High functioning” vs. “low functioning”; autism as a linear spectrum disorder (its actually more like a color wheel); people with autism have zero empathy; no touching; autism afflicts boys and men only; 100% asexual; autism is new; autism is trendy; and autism is a cultural phenomenon. They provided data and research findings that support how many of these beliefs have no scientific basis.

This pre–conference provided participants an opportunity to network with successful individuals diagnosed with autism, and I learned several new terms (intersectionality, civility war, and neurodiversity). I also learned about Edward T. Hall’s “cultural iceberg” (, where deep culture impacts the many social interactions that may lead to institutional bias if able people misinterpret autistics’ stimming behavior. I highly recommend that mental health providers and people with autism attend the 3rd Annual Autistics Present Symposium on October 20th at Bellevue College. For more information, go to: The symposium’s theme is “Intersectionality: Claiming All Our Identities.” This pre–conference opened my eyes to the wide variety of strategies people with autism self-advocate for independence and respect today.

Event: Pre-Conference by local autistic self-advocates

Bellevue College is hosting a pre-conference created entirely by local autistic self-advocates. There will be speakers, lunch and refreshments at this free, half-day event!

Saturday August 25th, 2018

South Seattle College Georgetown Campus
6737 Corson Ave S
Seattle, WA 98108

Check-in and refreshments begin at 10, first speaker at 10:30, lunch at 11:50. The day’s events will conclude at 2.

Accessibility: We are striving to accommodate sometimes conflicting access needs. We will add details here as we can. Please contact us at with any questions or requests. To provide as scent-free an event as possible, we request that all who attend, refrain from the following before or during the event: smoking; wearing colognes, perfumes or scented oils; or using scented laundry detergents or fabric softeners. We also ask that attendees wear clothes that have had limited exposure to the items above.

Again, tickets are free, but if you would like to make a contribution to support local Autistic Self-advocate efforts, you may do so through PayPal


Men and Women show surprising differences in seeing motion

The Bernier lab and the Murray Lab recently published an article in Current Biology title ‘Sex Differences in Visual Motion Processing.’  Below is a summary from the article, and links to different news article which came out today that discuss the findings.


The importance of sex as a biological variable has recently been emphasized by major funding organizations [1] and within the neuroscience community [2]. Critical sex-based neural differences are indicated by, for example, conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that have a strong sex bias with a higher prevalence among males [51, 3]. Motivated by this broader context, we report a marked sex difference in a visual motion perception task among neurotypical adults. Motion duration thresholds [4, 5]—the minimum duration needed to accurately perceive motion direction—were considerably shorter for males than females. We replicated this result across three laboratories and 263 total participants. This type of enhanced performance has previously been observed only in special populations including ASD, depression, and senescence [6, 7, 8]. The observed sex difference cannot be explained by general differences in speed of visual processing, overall visual discrimination abilities, or potential motor-related differences. We also show that while individual differences in motion duration thresholds are associated with differences in fMRI responsiveness of human MT+, surprisingly, MT+ response magnitudes did not differ between males and females. Thus, we reason that sex differences in motion perception are not captured by an MT+ fMRI measure that predicts within-sex individual differences in perception. Overall, these results show how sex differences can manifest unexpectedly, highlighting the importance of sex as a factor in the design and analysis of perceptual and cognitive studies.

News articles discussing these research findings:

Journal Reference:

  1. Scott O. Murray, Michael-Paul Schallmo, Tamar Kolodny, Rachel Millin, Alex Kale, Philipp Thomas, Thomas H. Rammsayer, Stefan J. Troche, Raphael A. Bernier, Duje Tadin. Sex Differences in Visual Motion Processing. Current Biology, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.06.014

The State of Research on the Genetics of ASD

The Bernier Lab’s Dr. Anne Arnett, Sandy Trinh, and Dr. Rapahel Bernier recently published an article titled ‘The state of research on the genetics of autism spectrum disorder: methodological, clinical and conceptual progress‘ in Psychology (Volume 27, June 2019, 1-5).

In this article, members of the Bernier Lab summarize the progress we have made in parsing the heterogeneity of ASD through genetics research. In our genotype-first approach, we have begun to identify genetics based subtypes of ASD. The utility of identifying these subtypes ranges from identifying critical gene and protein networks, to implications for pharmacological interventions for ASD. In short, we have made a lot of progress in the recent decades and the Bernier Lab is working together with some other fantastic investigators to execute cutting-edge research on ASD.

Welcoming the 2018 Special Olympics USA National Games to Seattle!

This week, over 4,000 athletes and coaches traveled from all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia to compete in events at the 2018 Special Olympics USA National Games, hosted in Seattle, WA. After beginning on July 1st, the USA National Games are now on the fourth day of events.

Founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1968, the first International Special Olympics Summer Games were held in Chicago. The Games hosted about 1,000 athletes in more than 200 events. Now, 50 years later, the Special Olympics boasts over 5.3 million athletes from 170 countries. The Special Olympics exists to provide year-round sports training and competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, while also continuing their opportunities to develop physical fitness, gain courage, experience joy, and to share their skills with their families, teammates, and communities.

The Special Olympics USA National Games, part of the Special Olympics Movement, hope to use the joy of sports and competition as a catalyst to create social change and to promote a more inclusive community. In May of 2015, the local Special Olympics Washington was awarded the bid to host the 4th quadrennial USA National Games. Of the 4,000 athletes competing in this year’s USA National Games, more than 300 of them are represented by Special Olympics Washington – the largest delegation among state programs.

The University of Washington (UW), along with Seattle University and Seattle Pacific University, is proudly hosting events on its campus, including Powerlifting, Track & Field, and Tennis. This year, staff from the UW Center on Human Development and Disability (CHDD), where UW’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC), University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research, and Service (UCEDD), and Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) programs are based, happily came out to support the athletes and teams at several events as volunteers.

Jen Gerdts, PhD, UW LEND Director, attended Day 2 of the events

As “Fans in the Stands” volunteers, CHDD staff, including members of the UW Bernier Lab and UW LEND, cheered on the various competing teams, helping to foster a positive and competitive atmosphere for the events and athletes. Announcers politely asked spectators to refrain from booing and yelling, but heavily encouraged them to scream with excitement for all players.

For CHDD staff, volunteering as “Fans in the Stands” was a fun way to support the hardworking athletes during the Special Olympics. Staff, interns, and directors alike all watched excitedly and clapped alongside fans from Minnesota and Florida during the flag football game, and chanted along with the team from Minnesota after their loss, helping to keep spirits high. They also had the opportunity to support the WA women’s basketball team from the local Special Olympics branch and their competitors from the Texas women’s team. Overall, the USA National Games in Seattle are shaping up to be an exciting week of events!

Members of the UW Bernier Lab at CHDD are excited to support the Seattle Games!


Written by: Daniel Cho, Research Assistant

Overconnected Brains

Spectrum News discussed a new study from King’s College in London which found that mice lacking CHD8 have higher brain connectivity between the prefrontal cortex and other brain regions. CHD8 controls the structure of chromatin and the expression of several genes that have been linked to autism in humans with CHD8 mutations. The increased synchrony of brain activity in mice with inactive CHD8 is unusual compared to mice with mutations in other autism genes such as 16p11.2, CNTNAP2 and SHANK3b, which show decreased connectivity. Albert Basson, lead investigator of this study, proposes that certain autism subtypes are “characterized by increased long-range functional connectivity rather than reduced.” Indeed, people with the CHD8 mutation have unique features—a large head, motor delays, and wide-set eyes—that suggest a distinct sub-type of autism. However, it is difficult to conclude from mice models if overconnectivity is a consistent characteristic of this mutation. The mice model also did not show any social behavioral issues, which is typical for people with CHD8 mutations. Amongst other researchers, the Bernier lab’s Dr. Raphe Bernier, is currently investigating hyperconnectivity in children with CHD8 mutations, to further explore this relationship.

Check out the full article from Spectrum News here!