I may have mentioned before that I have had an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis since February 2014, and as World Autism Awareness Week draws a close today with World Autism Awareness Day, a day to wear blue (sorry folks, my contribution to that effort is to wear blue jeans
(as usual) since I completely forgot to do anything else) I thought I would review Perspectives, the final flagship event of Creativity Month in Northern Ireland, held at Skainos on Tuesday.
On navigating the sandwiches, we found a sliding tile puzzle on our seats of a work by Elvin Simpson – a challenge I could see not everyone succeeded at, but with too many misspent hours with such puzzles when I was little, I managed to do not just the two in the picture but a third on a convenient empty seat.
The first speaker was Adam Gee, Commissioning Editor for multi-platform and online video at Channel 4, who introduced himself as being no autism expert but rather wishing to speak in broader terms about diversity.
In 2012, Adam had been concerned that a small broadcaster which did not produce its own content, rather being a publisher and commissioner, might have bitten off more than they could chew in broadcasting the Paralympic Games – then he watched this.
He was convinced. Indeed, the Paralympics would change perceptions of disability in a way that would stick.
Channel 4’s values were to do it first (innovation), to make trouble (grit in the oyster) and to inspire change. Its 360 Charter was mainstreaming diversity in the system. Having looked at Mindchecker results for Embarrassing Bodies (of 2.5 million tests taken, 549,000+ were the Autism test) he noted that a proper gender mix would make a typical company more likely to outperform others financially. A proper ethnicity mix would have an even bigger impact – 35%.
Nigel Newbutt, Senior Lecturer in Digital and Media Cultures at Bath Spa University, had developed areas of research in autism and technology. He had developed programmes of study across the UK and Ireland in film, TV, digital media etc. The broader creative industry accounted for 5.6% of all UK jobs in 2012.He outlined the four ways into the industry: apprenticeship, degree (whether specialist or not) (61%), runner (after leaving school) (36%) and personal links. The skills required were changing and evolving, requiring adaptability, but core intellectual and technical skills remained the same: methodical, logical, creative, using initiative, meeting deadlines on one hand, and aptitude, kit knowledge, capability in operation, details, and commitment to long hours on the other.
Joanne Douglas is a Chartered Psychologist who runs the Spectrum Centre in Dungannon. People with Asperger Syndrome [high functioning autism, and yes, this author will use the shorthand Aspie] are exceptional because we have overcome so many challenges in our lives [especially since high functioning autism was in its infancy as a concept when a lot of us were young!] Jo prefers to talk about impairment – the tendency to do certain things too much or too little, where “deficit” implies a shortage. A good attitude was an essential, while being realistic. The challenge was to know what can be changed, to accept what cannot, and to have the wisdom to know the difference.
Sharon Didrichsen, manager of Specialisterne NI, noted that Autism happens in the space between two people, and introduced a video by Alex Plank from wrongplanet.net before wrapping up with a quick Q&A session.
The whole session focussed on what people on the Autistic spectrum (whether diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder or not) offer to the creative industries by their very nature and through their problem solving skills, understanding of structure, logical processes, persisistence, and I would have to add, capability to think completely outside the box.
Creativity Month in Northern Ireland may well be at risk next year, due to the budget cuts, but in the introduction left on our seats, Sharon concluded “When people with Autism are supported properly in the workplace, positive difference emerges. We have companies here in Northern Ireland that want to find out more. This conference is the official start of that conversation.”