Leeds Conference on What Works in Autism – Autistic Intelligence
Being a science graduate, I know very well that academic conferences can be dry and laborious affairs. Sitting all day in a hall listening to various nervous speakers discuss their passions quite badly and having to wait patiently for the single speaker you booked the tickets for in the first place. I was prepared for a long day…
I purchased my tickets, met a friend and attended the Leeds Conference on What Works in Autism – Autistic Intelligence.
I was very wrong.
To say I had a very engaging and productive day is in an understatement. It was wonderful to be in a place where Autism was ok. Accepted, embraced (but not literally), openly discussed and best of all, seen in a positive light. It felt like I had come home!
This is how the “Autistic Intelligence Group” describe themselves:
We’re a loosely affiliated group of worldwide experts in aspects of autism, a consultancy. Some of us are writers, some are educators, some are therapists, some are researchers, some are campaigners. Many of us are all of those things, and there’s something else that marks us out from those who claim to know about the autism spectrum – it’s that all of us have personal experience. Some are on the spectrum, some are parents of children on the spectrum, some partners and some have autism in the family. We’re set up as a not-for-profit educational social enterprise. We’re not sponsored, not funded, and don’t take donations. We just try to cover our costs.
They run conference events up and down the country throughout the year to promote and discuss ‘Autism as it is lived – not autism as a medical disorder’. Yesterday was the Leeds Conference on Autism. In attendance were Dr Wenn Lawson, Dr Luke Beardon, Dr Olga Bogdashina and Dr Jacqui & Ben Jackson (son).
I met a friend at Leeds Train Station and headed off to the Leeds Club for the conference. On arrival we registered for the days events and were sent off to discover the delicious breakfast fare and beverages. Fresh Danish pastries and plenty of the coffee to bolster my resolve for the day.
Dr Barbara Jacobs opened the day’s events with an introductory chat explaining the background to ‘Autistic Intelligence’ and saying that she was going to be a hard taskmaster with regards to the day’s speakers timing. She made it clear that all the speakers were very passionate about their subjects and were very likely to overrun with their allotted time. The speakers were likely to be nervous but all needed to start and finish on time. Dr Jacobs had to have the microphone wrestled from her, when she ran over time with her introduction, by a speaker anxious to begin, the irony made us all smile.
First off the bat was Wenn Lawson, he discussed with much passion and humanity – ‘What Works in Learning?’, talking about how professionals need to understand autistic learning ‘styles’ before being able to teach effectively. You can find out more about his passions and area of expertise at his official website. I am currently reading Wenn’s book ‘Sex, Sexuality and the Autism Spectrum’ which is wonderful, His other books can be found here.
Olga Bogdashina followed up with ‘ What Works in Sensory Processing?’ She spoke very passionately about Theory of Mind and Gestalt Perception as well as how senses (vision, hearing, tactility, olfaction, gustation, proprioception and vestibular system) are perceived and interpreted. Her favourite slide had quotes which caused a ripple of amusement in the audience.
(non autistics) can be considered idiots in the autistic world (O’Neill)
and appear to be thoroughly ‘sub-normal’ by ‘autistic’ standards (Williams)
Olga has written several books which can be found here.
Lunch at the Leeds Club was a lovely two-course buffet in the library, and I spent a happy hour networking, chatting and discussing the morning’s events with The Talking House, Leeds STARS Team and Leeds ABC Group.
Next on stage was Luke Beardon who presented his views on ‘What Works in Social Relationships?’ He had a very practical and matter of fact slant to his presentation, opening, with an unplanned discussion on appropriate places for autistic boys to masturbate. Then telling us a true story about a secretaries office that said ‘private’ on the door. I am sure that, having an interest in autism, you can picture the scene when a teenage boy has been taught about ‘private’ places to go. Luke discussed that telling Autistic people “you can’t do that” or “don’t do that” simply doesn’t work, because they can and do ‘do that’. He certainly grabbed our attention and went on to talk with so much enthusiasm about the sociability of people on the spectrum. He made an important distinction between AS (Autistic Spectrum) people desiring alone time and AS people who wanted to be sociable, but didn’t know how, and the loneliness that ensues.
Luke’s books can be found here.
Luke also talked about the National Autistic Societies statistic that only 10% of people on the Autistic Spectrum were employed. He made an excellent point to challenge this, wondering how many people on the spectrum were undiagnosed and employed.
Dr Jaqui Jackson presented her talk on ‘What Works for Families?’. She talked about the challenges of raising 8 children. She has 5 boys and 3 girls. Matthew was born prematurely and has dyslexia and dyspraxia. Luke has Asperger’s syndrome and developmental coordination disorder. Luke wrote a book called Freaks, Geeks and Asperger’s Syndrome about his life with the condition which was published when he was 13. Joe has ADHD and Ben who was born prematurely and is autistic. Jacqui also has three daughters named Rachel, Sarah, who has Asperger’s Syndrome; and Anna. Her youngest boy is Alex, who isn’t diagnosed but seems to have signs of Asperger’s Syndrome too. Her insights into her life had parallels to many parents in the audience and she movingly discussed some of her families journey with us. Jacqui’s books, including my personal favourite, Multicoloured Mayhem, can be found here.
I genuinely found the conference to be an exciting, uplifting and inspirational event. Hearing of each speaker’s experiences and perspective gave everyone valuable insights, information and food for thought. There was discussion around Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Gamma Waves in the brain, neuro-lingusitic processing and brain mini-columns. I think I will have to attend the next Autistic Intelligence Conference, in London, in January 2015 where Tony Attwood and Adam Feinstein are presenting.
Here is the link to Autistic Intelligence website, where you can buy tickets for their events.