Episode 26, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and YouTube


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“The idea that autism is all negative is really why I don't really like talking about it as a disorder, but rather a difference. Because there are many things...that many people with autism can do, that people without autism can't.”

In today’s episode of Keep Talking, we’re joined by Audrey Brumback, Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurology at the University of Texas’ Dell Medical School. Audrey talks about her interest in autism, what we know about autism today, and how her lab studies brand physiology to understand the autistic brain better. She also explains the neurological differences between autistic individuals and normal individuals and why autism isn’t all negative but just a difference in our brain’s programming. In addition, we discuss the evolutionary history of autism in humans, the various genetic and environmental factors leading to it, measuring neurodiversity, and creating a more inclusive space for neurologically different individuals in society.

About Audrey Brumback (quote from the official Dell Medical School website directory):

"Audrey Brumback is a physician, scientist, and Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurology and Department of Pediatrics at the University of Texas. She is also a board-certified pediatric neurologist in UT Health Austin Pediatric Neurosciences at Dell Children’s. Audrey’s research focuses on developing novel therapies for brain dysfunction based on modulation of neurophysiology. Her goal is to develop brain-circuit-based therapies for the developmental neuropsychiatric disorders she treats in her clinical practice."

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Time Stamps:

(00:00) Intro
(00:45) Get to know Audrey Brumback
(01:26) Audrey’s upbringing and the life events that led her to study autism
(04:56) What is autism?
(08:37) Diagnosing autism in children
(14:20) The population of Americans identified as having autism
(15:50) The influence of genes versus environment in causing autism
(17:06) Evaluating the possible factors leading to producing kids with autism
(19:56) Introducing a kinder and more rational approach to dealing with individuals with autism or autistic tendencies
(24:08) How most people explain their indifferent behavior with autistic individuals
(27:09) Audrey’s areas of promise for people with autism
(31:11) Determining the kind of help that autistic individuals need
(33:00) Understanding neurodiversity and life with autism
(36:21) Is there any kind of intrinsic motivation that people with autism experience to change the nature of their minds for the better?
(41:41) Why autism is not all negative but is instead a difference in the neurological programming of certain individuals
(42:54) Is autism a spectrum disorder?
(45:15) The evolutionary history of autism and thoughts on what caused it to continue existing in the human gene pool
(47:09) Making our society a better place for individuals with autism: the potential areas of improvement in their conditions in the future


“Autism -- it's called a disorder. And I think that we're sort of starting to appreciate that different doesn't necessarily mean bad.”

“In my mind, autism (is) sort of built as a social communication disorder. I think of it as a processing disorder... I think that (it) is a difference in how the brain just processes information and how it makes some types of activities harder, and some types of activities easier.”

“There's no one gene that gives you a 100% chance of having autism. But we see that there's about 100 genes that are sort of enriched in the population.”

“So, there's a saying in the field of autism that if you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism. So each person is unique. It's (that) we can't generalize based on one person to the rest of (the) people with autism.”

“I imagine that there are a lot of things we could be doing better, that wouldn't be that hard to implement, that would make life a lot (better) for people with autism.”

“The idea that autism is all negative is really why I don't really like talking about it as a disorder, but rather a difference. Because there are many things...that many people with autism can do, that people without autism can't.”

“I think about how many people who actually have autism are diagnosed with conduct disorder or Oppositional Defiant Disorder... they're considered bad kids, when in reality, their brain just processes information differently.”

“We don't need to discount people for one aspect of their being when they have so much else to offer."

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