Meryl Alper Biography

Meryl Alper

Associate Professor of Communication Studies
College of Arts, Media and Design

[email protected] 

Areas of Expertise

Social and cultural implications of communication technologies
Youth and families
Mobile media


Dr. Meryl Alper is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern University, where she researches the social and cultural implications of communication technologies, with a focus on disability and digital media, children and families’ technology use, and mobile communication. Dr. Alper is the author of 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 forthcoming book, Kids Across the Spectrums: Growing Up Autistic in the Digital Age (MIT Press), explores the often-misunderstood media and technology practices of young people on the autism spectrum. In her research and teaching, Dr. Alper also draws on over 15 years of professional experience in educational children’s media as a researcher, strategist, and consultant with Sesame Workshop, PBS KIDS, Nickelodeon, and Disney. Prior to joining the faculty at Northeastern, Dr. Alper earned her doctoral and master’s degrees from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies and History from Northwestern University, as well as a certificate in Early Childhood Education from UCLA.

Project Description

“Advancing Digital and Health Equity for Autistic Children Ages 9-13”

This project will provide insights into the challenges and opportunities that children on the autism spectrum—and across the socioeconomic spectrum—encounter while growing up with new media (i.e., YouTube, video games) and communication technologies (i.e., smartphones, tablet computers). Children born in New England are 50% more likely than children in other US regions to be diagnosed with autism (controlling for a family’s socioeconomic status), primarily due to higher awareness and better diagnosis practices in the region. Young people in Boston however also live with some of the most severe income inequality in our nation’s cities. If the families of rich and poor autistic children in Boston have an easier time overall accessing qualified doctors and societal resources, what else sets their experiences apart in the digital age, particularly as socioeconomic disparities intersect with race and ethnicity? My project centers on the following research question: How are emerging and digital technologies being adopted by autistic children across the socioeconomic spectrum in their everyday lives, and how are these practices shaping and being shaped by their interpersonal interactions with family and friends, as well as by institutional actors such as technology developers and municipal service providers? This project aims to advance health equity for children on the autism spectrum by identifying key factors contributing to, as well as mitigating, their digital and social exclusion.

Publications – Past Three Years

Journal Articles 

Alper, M., Christiansen, E., Allen, A. A.., & Mello, S. (in press). Pediatric media guidance for parents of children on the autism spectrum: A thematic analysis. Health Communication.  

Perovich, L. J., Alper, M., & Cleveland, C. (2022). “Self-Quaranteens” process COVID-19: Understanding information visualization language in memes. Proceedings of the ACM on Human Computer Interaction, 6(1), 1–20.  

Fox, J., Pearce, K. E., Massanari, A. L., Riles, J. M., Szulc, Ł., Ranjit, Y. S., Trevisan, F., Soriano, C. R. R., Vitak, J., Arora, P., Ahn, S. J., Alper, M., Gambino, A., Gonzalez, C., Lynch, T. L., Williamson, L. D., & Gonzales, A. L. (2021). Open science, closed doors? Countering marginalization through an agenda for ethical, inclusive research in communication. Journal of Communication, 71(5), 764–784.  

Alper, M. (2021). U.S. parent perspectives of media guidance from pediatric autism professionals. Journal of Children and Media, 15(2), 165–182.  

Alper, M. (2021). Critical media access studies: Deconstructing power, visibility, and marginality in mediated space. International Journal of Communication, 15, 840–861.  

Mello, S., Alper, M., & Allen, A. A. (2020). Physician mediation theory and pediatric media guidance in the digital age: A survey of autism medical and clinical professionals. Health Communication, 35(8), 955–965.  

Alper, M. (2019). Portables, luggables, and transportables: Historicizing the imagined affordances of mobile computing. Mobile Media & Communication, 7(3), 322–340.  

Alper, M. (2019). Future talk: Accounting for the technological and other future discourses in daily life. International Journal of Communication, 13, 715–735.  

Book Chapters 

 Prendella, K., & Alper, M. (in press). Inequality and day-to-day encounters with media. In R. L. Brown, M. Maroto, & D. Pettinicchio (Eds.), Oxford handbook of the sociology of disability. Oxford University Press.  

Prendella, K., & Alper, M. (2022). Media and children with disabilities. In D. Lemish (Ed.), Routledge international handbook of children, adolescents, and media (2nd ed) (pp. 395–402). Routledge. 

Jennings, N., Caplovitz, A. G., & Alper, M. (2022). Media use among children with chronic health conditions during the early days of the coronavirus crisis. In M. Götz & D. Lemish (Eds.), Children and media worldwide in a time of a pandemic (pp. 167–180). Peter Lang. 

Alper, M., & Irons, M. (2020). Digital socializing in children on the autism spectrum. In L. Green, D. Holloway, L. Haddon, K. Stevenson, & T. Leaver (Eds.), Routledge companion to children and digital media (pp. 348–357). Routledge. 

Alper, M. (2019). When face-to-face is screen-to-screen: Reconsidering mobile media as communication augmentations and alternatives. In K. Ellis, G. Goggin, B. Haller, & R. Curtis (Eds.), Routledge companion to disability and media (pp. 275–284). Routledge. 

White Papers 

Whittaker, M., (with Alper, M., Bennett, C. L., Hendren, S., Kaziunas, L., Mills, M., Morris, M. R., Rankin, J., Rogers, E., Salas, M., & Myers West, S.)* (2019). Disability, bias, and AI. AI Now (*co-authors listed alphabetically).  

Letters to the Editor 

Alper, M. (2020). Improving research on screen media, autism, and families of young children. JAMA Pediatrics, 174(12), 1223.  

Public Commentary 

Alper, M. (2020, October 27). The silver lining of virtual school for some autistic students. Slate (Future Tense).