Happy 1st birthday: Attentiveness to Autism
Happy 8th August - it has been one year since my minister and I embarked on a journey that neither of us expected: from how large this had grown, the need that I never expected would want to be fed (this grew out of a moan from me) and how many opportunities would come out of this. I had never planned to be running and teaching workshops, being a rotational panellist on the radio or writing a blog, let alone even running a service - organising from scratch and introducing everyone on stage - and being on the Methodist additional needs round table! This all erupted from one fly by comment I made on a photo on Facebook. Such great things I find happen rather coincidently and without me sitting down and doing a five-year plan (I don't even see the point in doing one to be honest). I find God tends to work with the unexpected so keeping an open mind is always beneficial, I mean, when I chose to follow God I didn't say fit in with my rules and pre-set plans. The one thing that had slightly different terms and conditions. Sometimes the things I think are a good idea aren't a good fit for me, like the whole degree in modern languages thing. I never dreamed of doing a Masters in autism, let alone a Masters full stop as I pooh poohed the whole idea of doing another degree just for the sake of it. Yes, I was good at what I did, but it didn't fit me in regards to my personality for the jobs out there.
We will be meeting to discuss our goals for the next upcoming year, but I thought I would give you a taster of our next big event as a duo in the project: the next round table in Birmingham. This is super important to me as it is not only somewhere that my research will be able to slot into quite nicely in terms of dissemination, yet also gets the project involved on a much wider scale and a larger target area. I was really encouraged after the last one - I was not the only autistic person taking part which I was very relieved about, as sometimes there isn't that diversity in opinion to give the full depth, breadth and beyond of the autism spectrum and 'neuroverse' true justice. The other lady is also to commence studying autism too soon at another university; seeing what is studied and how it is applicable to our field and us in our day to day lives gives a whole new perspective. It is much more than a fact finding mission and a journey of self-discovery, but seeing how who did what when and where gives such context to the whole thing. Knowing exactly which parts to tackle and target and seeing how others think and what drove their decisions is also incredibly powerful. In Birmingham we will be meeting to discuss the first part of our action plan, which we outlined last time and hopefully looking at practical next steps, big and small.
I'm really looking forward to where Attentiveness to Autism goes next. I'm very grateful to Pru as there is no way I could do what the project has achieved without her insight, sensitivity, connections and knowledge. I know she has said she has learnt from me, but I have also learnt from her too. It also shows that good allyship is possible between autistic and non-autistic people, which is a massive compliment to Pru. For all the times that I and autistic peers may have experienced communication breakdown and have had the blame shifted very much in our direction, it is so refreshing to have an experience that is fostered by open and active listening and an openness and readiness to learn.
I think this is something we can all learn from, myself included - we only ever know our own experience and perception in an up close and personal way and one big way to learn is through active listening to words, text or our preferred and used communication method. Listening involves not blurring others words, however they may communicate them to you, with your own preconceptions. I firmly believe listening is not just for verbal communication, but for all types and methods of communication. It involves not putting words into people's mouths or assuming a meaning upon what they say. In the day and age of analysing literature, picking apart what people say to find meaning we need to be careful we strike the right balance of finding rich idiom and imagery and seeing the words and taking them as they are. This includes knowledge of the person who communicates them in the first place and knowing how they impart words. No one is exactly the same, including those who are autistic, so any kind of assumptions are dangerous. Let them take the lead. Accessible language including limiting the amount of 'jargon' (a pet hate of mine irrelevant of circumstance) is always a good bet for everyone - not to say we should be dumbing down what we say, far from it. Dumbing down would be inappropriate. Just make sure it is clear and to the point, irrelevant who is listening.
I look forward to keeping you all updated of what happens over the next year!