I hope you had a good Sunday. As the final day of World Autism Week and World Autism Day (WAD) our 'autism friendly' church service, which is as far as we are aware is the first in England and certainly the first in the Methodist Church of GB. I also had a great surprise on Thursday that it had been negotiated for me to have a short 5-10 minute interview on our local BBC radio station on the breakfast show on WAD regarding our service and the 'Attentiveness to Autism' project. Until today, I had never been in any sort of media really at all and had never been on the radio, so had no idea what to expect. One of the panellists was not present, so I was invited at short notice to take a place on the current affairs panel, thus was on BBC local radio between 06:50 and 08:00 this morning!
I have to say both were a roaring success. I really enjoyed speaking on the radio, especially about a topic that I feel very passionate about and that is so current. I have honestly no idea how many people tuned in or listened to what I have to say, but what I do know is it is on iPlayer for 29 days and the right people who need to hear what was said have or will tune in. The service went really well and we had a few visitors to the host church we had the service in too, which was great! There were also some informative conversations had between us and stewards and other church goers who wanted to know more about the implementation and further works of the project.
One of the main points I put across when speaking on the radio was the difference between 'awareness', which I would like to think we all have in regards to autism as many of us know that autism exists in society and we know of basic images, stereotypes and images shown through the media like those of Rainman and Sheldon in the Big Bang Theory. There are some of us who have autistic family members or friends so will have that experience to reflect on. There are also a growing number of autistic individuals who are speaking up too, myself included: some will feel inadequately portrayed by the images in popular media and misconceptions, some may want to give their own lived experience - as this lived experience is undoubtedly rich in terms of learning about an autistic perception of the world and others, again myself included, will be pushing for something further than awareness. For me, there is a subtle difference in the language of 'awareness' and 'acceptance' or 'understanding'. The second and third nouns imply a deeper interaction with the phenomenon, learning and taking away, interacting and challenging, whereas awareness is only skin deep and requires no challenging of boundaries necessarily. As autism is such that the 'lived experience' is so rich, that is to say there are nuances of autism that one may only comprehend through living as an autistic person or hearing these experiences from an autistic person themselves, whether typed, spoken or signed, it is important that we all recognise the value of hearing, listening to and learning from those who experience the world in this way.
This does not demean the experience of living with someone who is autistic and the knowledge you can learn through that. There is no manual for parenting, sibling hood or friendship in any circumstance, let alone this one.
Furthermore due to the richness of the lived experience of autism, it is imperative that when looking towards an autistic friendly and accessible society, that we (and we meaning us who are autistic) work alongside and lead the changes. Otherwise the 'right' change will not happen in all completeness. Although we may be in a minority, our importance is no less, especially in God's eyes when looking at this from a faith and Christianity perspective, therefore equity is imperative. Even for those of us who may not wish an affiliation with religion, our worth is no less than our non autistic counterparts, in spite of what society, certain groups or other individuals may say. I know firsthand how hard it can feel to feel worthless. I can almost hear some people saying that 'you can't be autistic if you did what you did today', which in turn rises feelings of fraud, hurt and lack of worth. But I know this is not right, and knowing that I am indeed autistic and valued is something I have to remind myself of. Please know that each one of you is highly valued and worthy of love.
Our next step with the Attentiveness to Autism project is a visit to Birmingham for the Methodist Church Roundtable on SEND and church. It is an honour to be invited and I am really looking forward to seeing where this goes next. It is a small group so I do look forward to learning more from the other participants about what is currently going on in other circuits and seeing how more positive change in attitudes can be made towards true accessibility and integration not only in churches and faith centres, but wider society too.