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.

World Autism Acceptance Day 2016

World Autism Acceptance Day (WAAD), also known as World Autism Awareness Day, can provide not only a useful mechanism through which to reconsider our priorities in the field of autism education, but motivate us to highlight aspects of our work which we hope are helping to improve the educational opportunities and longer term outcomes for autistic children.

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A primary school classroom in Greece

 

In Italy, members of the TAE team are participating in a two-day event on the 2nd and 3rd of April entitled ‘Autism: Strategies for Well-Being’. Consisting of talks, workshops and culminating in an autism-friendly film-screening, team members will also emphasise the ways in which the TAE project has sharpened the understanding and skills of different practitioners. One of the speakers at the event is ‘Simone Knowing Simon S.’, a well-known autistic advocate, trainer and consultant who is also a specialist advisor to the Italian TAE team. He will talk about how teachers can facilitate the inclusion of autistic children in the classroom.

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Participants at the Italian piloting sessions of the TAE training materials

 

In Greece, some of the TAE team are marking WAAD a little later in the month on 10th April at the Café Myrtillo, the first café in Greece to employ only autistic adults and those with other special educational needs and disabilities. The main speaker at this event will be Dr Damian Milton, who plays an important advisory role on the TAE project. His talk is entitled: ‘Creating autism-friendly societies’ and will be followed by a presentation on the TAE project itself by the Greek team lead, Katerina Laskaridou, leading to an open discussion. The event organisers have made this event open to the public, but have purposefully invited autistic adults and teenagers in order to emphasise the vital nature of their participation and input.

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Poster advertising the event at the café Myrtillo

Addio Milano

Last week the Italian team hosted the tri-national set of meetings, visits and discussions which take place on the TAE project approximately every six months. Based in Monza, near Milan, and spread over five days, this event provides an important opportunity for team members and associated professionals to discuss progress and plan the next phases of the scheme.

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Dr Karen Guldberg in discussion with Dr Damian Milton in Monza, Italy.

 As you can imagine, with groups from Greece, Italy and the UK, there were many interesting issues aired in relation to autism education, with cultural and socio-linguistic differences at times providing key talking points. Naturally, our Greek and Italian partners were much more proficient in English than most members of the UK team in either of their languages (Dr Lila Kossyvaki from the UK team is, fortunately, a native Greek speaker). What is clear, however, is that all three teams are moving ahead constructively with the development of the teacher training programmes and that working in such a European partnership is very fruitful.

Next stop: Birmingham in October 2016!

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At the ‘multiplier event’ in Italy, where there was at times three-way translation from Greek, to English, to Italian.