Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition in which patterns of social interaction, emotional communication and behaviour differ from the majority neurotypical population. These differences arise in development and can be expressed along a spectrum from marked disability and impairment to unique individual talents and abilities.
In Clinical Neuroscience at BSMS, we have worked with autistic people to help understand more about emotional difficulties that can often hold people back from achievement. Our work now focuses more on sensory processing, anxiety and interacting physical and psychological vulnerabilities that reflect a wider understanding of autism and the impact this diagnosis may have on an individual. While still maintaining a clinical perspective, this broader view still encompasses expressions of autism well beyond narrow stereotypes of a ‘typical’ autistic person (eg male, often good at mathematics and often lacking in empathy). The recognition of strengths, skills, struggles and diversity of people with autism can have a significant, positive impact on both wellbeing including occupational and health outcomes.
This symposium seeks to challenge stereotyped views of autism, harnessing the lived experience of autistic people. Anecdotally, such expertise is frequently dismissed maintaining poor understanding of neurodiversity and difficulties in communicating with professionals, for example in clinical settings. In the symposium, we showcase a series of films, many with a focus on research, to explore how we might do better. Crucially, neurodiversity and a women-led process underpins the production to achieve the symposium’s aims.
In this forum we are glad to be amplifying the voices of autistic women that are too often marginalised, yet we acknowledge that on this occasion we haven't done enough to ensure that the voices of autistic women of colour are heard. This would always have been a shortcoming, but we think most of us are now more aware than ever before of how troubling it is to be missing these vital contributions, and that real action is needed to change the conditions which make such oversights possible. This is an error that we intend to learn from and are happy to take feedback on. We are committed to organising our future events with these considerations at the forefront of our thinking.
COVID-19 offered us another challenge. Originally, we planned to present the symposium in a more standard way, at a conference with questions. However, lockdown, shielding and distancing made that impossible. We adapted: Our presenters filmed themselves at home, with limited technical support, often under difficult conditions. All these talks are unique, capturing not only the details and conclusions of research, but also, something of the time. As we, in the UK, make moves to relax restrictions, it is worth noting that many autistic people will have experienced the crisis in a different way, and this may carry different and unforeseen implications into the future.