Friday 23 September 2011

First Impressions, Daisy Chain and the World Autism Organisation

This week at Autism Works has been a busy yet exciting one, not least because I have enjoyed some time visiting different locations and giving talks, but most interestingly I have had the privilege to find out about different approaches to autism from some fascinating presentations from people from places as diverse as Kuwait, Spain etc. Such events are great for exchange of ideas, as well as other organisations learning from us at Autism Works, there is also much we can learn from then.

Earlier in the week, I was speaking at the Daisy Chain Project in Stockton-on-Tees. As readers may remember, I gave a talk at Daisy Chain earlier in the year to their members, but this time though it was the Friends of Daisy Chain, largely made up of businesses that support the charity. It was interesting to hear about why businesses support an autism charity. One of the representatives was a Financial Advisor who became aware of Daisy Chain through a client who had a child with autism, and felt that becoming a friend of the charity would be a good way to 'give something back'. 

After I spoke, I then had the opportunity to hear a talk by Sue Donnelly, an internationally renowned image consultant, who talked about first impressions. As a person with Asperger's Syndrome, I tend not to place a high degree of importance on personal image, as I tend to focus more on the content and presentation of my work. Sue's approach to image and first impressions though, like my approach to Asperger's Syndrome, is largely unconventional in that she likes to focus on how you can make a good first impression by being yourself, which can be done quite easily. I later asked Sue for her honest opinion as an image consultant as to how I come across and I was pleased to hear that she felt I came across as 'authentic', who I am as I am, which is really just being me! I was almost like seeing myself from the outside, which was an interesting experience.

Quite often, conferences and events often deliver more than just their itinerary. The Daisy Chain event certainly did this and then two days later, the World Autism Organisation (WAO) Conference did this on a huge scale, in terms of what it opened me up to as to how Autism is understood throughout the world, not just in what we call the western world, but also in places such as South Africa, Namibia and Sudan. Representatives from these nations came to the conference to share good practice. Though there is much good practice in autism in the UK that they can take home, there is also a lot that we can learn from them, particularly from countries where provision for autism is minimal. Affected families in these countries have very little, but often make good use of what they have. 

It was also a privilege to hear remarkable stories from autism parents including Samira Al-Saad, founder of the Kuwait Autism Centre and an innovator in autism and learning, Isabel Bayonas, founder of the Association of Parents of Autistic Children in Spain and Polly Tommey, editor-in-chief of The Autism File, who gave a particularly inspirational speech. When interviewed on the local news later, WAO Chairman Paul Shattock mentioned that as many as one in six of us has a first degree relative (parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, cousin) on the autistic spectrum. As well as this, there are also many people who know of someone who is either affected by autism or who has a relative on the autistic spectrum through social circles, as seen at Daisy Chain. Though there was much good news that came from the WAO conference, there is still plenty of work to be done in raising understanding of autism, in addition to awareness. Most of us are familiar with the word 'autism' itself, but many still don't quite understand what it is.

Daisy Chain, who have asked me to do some more work for them, have for now, convinced me to attempt to climb Kilimanjaro to raise funds for them in 2013. I have been impressed with how they have managed to attract support from outside the autistic community with the Friends of Daisy Chain aspect. This is important as autism doesn't just affect those on the spectrum but also others around them, not least because we breathe the same air! Be sure to stay tuned to Adventures with Autism Works to see how this develops.

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