Autism: a global phenomenon

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Last month Dr Damian Milton – the principal autistic advisor for the TAE project – and Becky Wood, the project manager, gave a presentation at a conference entitled ‘Globalisation of Autism: Historical, Sociological and Anthropological Reflections’ which was held at Queen Mary, University of London. This was a truly international conference, with research projects in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Uganda, Canada, Brazil, Taiwan and Bangladesh – as well as many other countries – being represented. It was extremely interesting to hear about how autism is perceived in different countries across the world, and the implications this has for research.

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During the Italian multiplier event in 2016, Damian Milton answers questions about autism, while his words are translated into Italian.

As the TAE is a tri-national project, involving Greece, Italy and the UK, Becky and Damian focussed on the parallels that might exist between issues concerning language and interpretation, with the general aim to increase autistic participation in the project. For example, Damian explained how it had been necessary, during his first visit to Greece to meet the Greek autistic advisor, for there to be a three-way translation, from Greek to English and vice versa, but also to explain what an autistic person might mean which someone who is not autistic could misinterpret. Becky discussed the ways in which she had tried to increase autistic participation in the project, and considered this in the context of the theory of Communities of Practice (Wenger, 1998), which underpins the whole TAE scheme.

In the evening, there was a talk by Steve Silberman, author of ‘Neurotribes: the Legacy of Autism and the Future of Diversity’, who spoke very engagingly about how he had come to write the book and how he felt life for autistic people could be improved in the future. Globalisation3Overall, the conference underlined the fact that we must not just consider autism within narrow, national contexts, and the projects like the TAE – which comprises three different countries – are still relatively rare.

Dr Bonnie Evans, who organised the conference, also launched her book: ‘The metamorphosis of autism: A history of child development in Britain’.Globalisation4

Reference:

Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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European Connections

As World Autism Acceptance Month draws to an end, it can be useful to think about what we might have learned – if anything – from the whole exercise. This year, the media attention paid to WAAD (World Autism Acceptance/Awareness Day) seemed greater than ever, but it can be difficult to measure what difference this might have made to the lives of autistic individuals and their families. Not only this, but the actual nature of what we are increasing awareness of, or asking others to accept, is not always clear, a point explored in this piece in Perspectives magazine, by the TAE Project Manager, Becky Wood.

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Dr Paola Molteni talks about the TAE on WAAD, in Milan, Italy

An important aspect of WAAD which is often lost is that autism is not limited by national boundaries, and that to understand autistic people, we need to think beyond the cultural references of our own countries. In a small, but we hope significant way, we hope that by working across three countries of Greece, Italy and the UK, we can learn from each other in order to improve the practice of teachers in schools, and so further the inclusion of autistic children of primary school age.

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Ryan Bradley

 

Ryan Bradley, who works on the TAE and is leading the development of the project website (which will be the source of teacher resources), expressed the issue in the following way:

‘The project has developed a methodology for collaborative working that is significant in attempting to establish a unified language and understanding of autism and inclusion across three European countries.’

As the project moves forward and the training materials are further developed and refined for Greece and Italy, we know that they can only be enriched by collaboration across borders. While it can be difficult to quantify the impact and achievements of WAAD, we hope that by informing and empowering teachers, autistic school children will have better educational experiences and outcomes.

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Katerina Laskaridou, pictured here with Dr Damian Milton, talks about the TAE during a WAAD event which included many autistic adolescents and their families