Share Blog Summer 2016
Letter from the Editor
Sue Fletcher-Watson, Developmental Psychologist, University of Edinburgh
If there is a theme running through this issue of Share magazine, perhaps we might label it “autism: but not as you know it.”
In these pages we hear about how parenting a child on the spectrum may be experienced in the black and minority ethnic communities of Scotland. We learn about autistic people engaged in productive employment, supported by family and friends, innovative practices and new technologies. We consider how to support students with autism in our higher and further education system – and how these supports may benefit the entire student body. Rather than focusing on the communication difficulties often emphasised in discussions about autism, we consider autistic people as enhanced communicators – understanding or speaking more than one language, and the benefits that might entail. Finally, one autistic person’s account of his participation in the Shaping Autism Research seminar series shows us how a journey through negative school and early adult experiences can nevertheless arrive at a point of personal happiness, and leadership in the Autistic community.
A frequent topic of discussion on social (and mainstream) media lately has been around the use of language such as ‘high-functioning’ or, conversely, ‘ severely-affected’ to describe individuals on the autism spectrum. These simplistic additional labels do very little to provide meaningful information about specific people, or even groups. Instead, descriptors such as ‘high-functioning’ risk denying autistic people the understanding and accommodations they may need or want – at all times or in particular circumstances. Such people may be thrust into situations without due regard for how they may be affected, especially if they are working hard to mask their inner distress. On the other hand, ‘low-functioning’ and other similar terms imply that autistic people have little to offer – they require special attention and as such can’t be expected to advocate for themselves let alone contribute to their community.
The stories and research shared in this magazine clearly refute both of these misconceptions of autism. I would struggle to describe any of the autistic people featured in this magazine using the simplistic terminology of ‘function’. Yes, these articles showcase how autistic people encounter challenges – sometimes in domains which may be very familiar to neurotypical readers, sometimes in areas which seem more particular to the autistic experience. But they also recount the personal achievements and fulfilling relationships, which are central to all our lives. I hope you agree that this issue of Share magazine offers diversity of experience, inspiration, and hope for the way in which our concepts of autism may become more enriched and nuanced as awareness and acceptance spreads through society.