About

What is autism?

The National Autistic Society defines autism as:

“… a lifelong neurological condition that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them.”

Media representations of autism have often dramatised and simplified the traits of autistic people, for example Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Rain Man and Jim Parsons portrayal of Sheldon in the TV series, The Big Bang Theory. In reality, autistic people are individuals with a wide range of physical and cognitive skills. Some autistic people have genius level IQs, others are severely learning impaired. Some autistic people are athletes, others have severe dyspraxia or physical impairments. Some autistic people love words and enjoy writing and speaking, others are completely non-verbal. Some autistic people strive to fit-in socially and to come across as “normal,” while others have no regard for social niceties and may appear particularly unique or eccentric.

But there are some shared traits that make autistic people seem very different from non autistic, or allistic, people.

For allistic people the use of speech, language and regular social contact can be essential to mental well-being. Allistic people can place a lot of importance on social interaction and instinctively use complex and subtle body language and facial expressions to communicate emotion and social standing. Autistic people may not have this instinctive ability and if they want to understand body language and facial expressions, they have to make a conscious effort to do so.

Some autistic people use speech and language in an unusual, sometimes very creative way, or they may not use spoken language at all. They also typically do not need the same level of human interaction as others in order to be mentally well. Indeed, for many autistic people too much social interaction is exhausting and a source of mental ill-health.

Autistic people tend to be literal and honest, some could be said to view life in a very ‘black and white’ way. Because autistic people communicate differently, understanding things like sarcasm or metaphors can be difficult.

Until very recently debate and discussion around autism and autistic experience have been led by allistic people, either the medical profession or the parents of autistic children. In the late eighties Dr Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University in the US, was among the first autistic people to write and lecture about her experience which was a key moment in changing perceptions of autistic people through her academic success. This paved the way for other autistic people to share their experience and for researchers and diagnosticians to re-evaluate their understanding of autism and autistic experience.

 

Social media has been a tremendous resource for autistic people to express their experience and to form friendships and support networks with others. In response to the twitter hashtag #autismis people wrote the following:

“Autism is how I think. How I process. How I am. My identity. My neurodivergence. Intense interests. Social overwhelm. Anxiety. Pure joy. Sweet, sweet solitude. Me. “
Dean Beadle.

 

“Autism is the overwhelming, ecstatic pleasure of sharing and expounding on what you love most with other people.” 
Sara Luterman

 

“Autism is being able to accomplish the extraordinary but not always being able to accomplish the ordinary.”
The Silent Wave

 

“Autism is not being able to comprehend to what the person in front of you is saying because all you can hear is the background noises.” 
Helen Ellis

 

“Autism is sometimes running out of the energy it takes to pass as normal.”
 Jax Blunt

 

What is neurodiversity?

The term was coined by autistic sociologist, Judy Singer and has subsequently been taken up by autistic activists. The term neurodiversity expresses the infinite variation in cognitive functioning within our species and specifically includes conditions such as ADD, Dyspraxia, Bipolar and Dyslexia as well as Autism.

The term neurodiversity challenges us to consider how different types of cognitive functioning are equally valid.

Diversity is reflected across the human race, in our language, size, gender identity, and physical and intellectual abilities. Seeing neurodiverse people as “different” can lead to social & political inequality, resulting in these groups being marginalised. However, where acceptance and inclusion is actively sought, our natural human diversity can be a source of great potential.

Over the last 3 years we have become more and more interested in autism. Our refurbishment was developed in consultation with seven autistic people to suit the needs of future audiences. It includes better designed acoustics, lighting and decoration. Alongside this project we are developing :

Propeller, our autism at work initiative,

Alternative education models for autistic children

A Fellowship designed especially for neuro-divergent talent

Tribes, Treasure Hunts and Truth Seekers, a creative project looking at our relationship with data in collaboration with The Open Data Institute and University of Southampton.

If you are interested in any of our autistic initiatives, please get in touch with Chloe chloe@bom.org.uk

BOM & Autism

Over the last 3 years we have become more and more interested in autism. Our refurbishment was developed in consultation with seven autistic people to suit the needs of future audiences. It includes better designed acoustics, lighting and decoration. Alongside this project we are developing :

Propeller, our autism at work initiative,

Alternative education models for autistic children

A Fellowship designed especially for neuro-divergent talent

Tribes, Treasure Hunts and Truth Seekers, a creative project looking at our relationship with data in collaboration with The Open Data Institute and University of Southampton.

If you are interested in any of our autistic initiatives, please get in touch with Chloe chloe@bom.org.uk