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
Autism
Disability
Mobile media

About

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 Five Years

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.

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.

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

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.

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

Alper, M. (2018). Inclusive sensory ethnography: Studying new media and neurodiversity in everyday life. New Media & Society, 20(10), 3560–3579.

Alper, M. (2017). Giving voice: Mobile communication, disability, and inequality. MIT Press.

Alper, M., & Goggin, G. (2017). Digital technology and rights in the lives of children with disabilities. New Media & Society, 19(5), 726–740.