This year, autism specialist Lynn McCann was kind enough to be our guest at the National Autistic Society’s annual Professional Conference. She has provided this guest post for the Axcis blog which gives her insight following the event.
We do our best work together
Over the past few years the autistic community has found their voice. Years ago we had Temple Grandin, Claire Sainsbury and John Elder Robinson writing books about what autism is really like, from their lived experience. These days we have blogs, Twitter, You Tube and other social media platforms where autistic people can tell us their stories and make their voices heard.
As with any community, there are differences of opinion, healthy debates and sometimes heated arguments. However, one strong theme I have noticed recently is the call for autistic people to be involved in research about autism…even choosing and driving what research should be done. I’m a strong believer in “nothing about me, without me” but this is more. Many autistic people believe that autism research should be led by autistic people.
It was with this in mind that I went along to my first “Autism Professionals Conference” at the kind invitation of Axcis Education Recruitment. As an ‘autism professional’ myself I am always keen to learn and find out what is going on in the world of autism research and practice, and knowing quite a lot already, I was hoping to learn new things, be challenged to think differently and meet other professionals – some I chat regularly to on twitter. What excited me most was knowing that there are some excellent autism professionals who are autistic and their insights were something I was looking forward to learning from very much.
First I was thrilled just to meet one of my autistic heroes, Joshua Muggleton, who is now a clinical psychologist and whose writings I have been following since he was 16 years old. I even use one of his quotes from his blog in my training and have done for 12 years. The first keynote was led by Owen and Cornelia Suskind, who made the film “A life animated” – and it was brilliant. Owen was a great speaker, telling his own story in his own words.
I attended a variety of talks and seminars throughout the two days. For me, the best ones were those where autistic people presented on their own or alongside a research professional sharing two sides of a research project. It was refreshing to see that autistic people were being involved in research as partners rather than only participants to be studied. The one that I learned the most from was “Gender identity and dysphoria in autistic people” with Dr Kate Cooper, Research Associate/Clinical Psychologist, University of Bath and Ben Stunell, Advocate and autistic adult. It’s an area I am reading about at the moment so it was good to have this seminar on offer. This was a good example of autistic people and professionals working together to bring a richer learning experience and there is lots I will take away from this to support my thinking and support ideas for the young people I work with.
There were a few wincing moments. When Michelle Garcia Winner, CEO & Founder, Social Thinking kept talking about “treating” autism I felt for the autistic people in the audience. It does seem to be a common American concept that we do hear a lot in the UK too, but need to steer away from. However, her programme was more about being ‘social detectives’ (a term I use in my work with autistic young people) where they are helped to learn about the social world around them so that they can interpret it and feel more confident when interacting with others. I would have liked to have heard from some of her autistic students and what they found useful in this programme. And of course, if you hadn’t heard, Dr Iain McClure from Edinburgh nearly caused a riot at the end of the second day when he suggested that autistic people were a ‘genetic mess’ and that their autism resulted from trauma before they were two years old. But what happened afterwards is what really made me realise we had come a long way. Dr Linda Buchan from Axia ASD stood up and told him that what he said was NOT acceptable. She was the one who got the applause and suddenly autistic people could see that some professionals were on their side.
There is some way to go, but we really are better when we work together.
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