The Autism Show
There are few places in the world where you can immerse yourself in the world of autism and see so many brilliant autistic speakers, like The Autism Show. This national two-day conference event runs three times a year, in Birmingham, Manchester and London. I attended the Manchester event on 8 July, for the first time.
As a recently diagnosed adult, I have a personal interest in understanding and learning more about autism. There were a wide range of exhibitors, support and services, covering assessment and diagnosis, occupational health, therapeutic services, employment, residential options, autistic authors, a personal assistant app and relevant charities, among others.
There were also three stages, running a programme of speakers talking on a huge range of subjects, and their own personal experiences. Topics included: supporting autistic children at school, masking and camouflaging, benefits of technology, managing anxiety, tantrums vs. meltdowns, sensory issues, autism and ADHD, transition from teen to adult, autistic Pride, late diagnosis journey, being a girl on the spectrum, sleep for autistic people, ‘co-production and kindness’ and many more!
The subtle autism-friendly differences at this event were really helpful, especially for people with more sensory challenges than I experience. The lighting was noticeably dimmer in the main hall and loud noise was kept to a minimum. There was also a quiet room, and a sensory room. Open stage talks provided headphones with adjustable volume so everyone was able to control their environment as much as possible – everyone could hear everything but nothing was too loud.
In my work as a Community Engagement Worker as part of the Improving Physical Health Team for Manchester Mind, I have supported people who are on the spectrum and who are seeking a diagnosis. This is often a difficult and challenging process. There are sometimes barriers such as a lack of funding or long waiting lists and some people give or pay a lot to go private.
I recently supported someone who didn’t feel comfortable discussing the idea with their usual GP, so I helped to find a solution to make that easier. Autism is sometimes viewed as a problem to be hidden – even by autistic people – rather than a difference or strength to be celebrated. Events like The Autism Show aim to continue to break down those barriers and the stigma by increasing education and understanding in a positive way.
Our team provides 1-2-1 support for people in Greater Manchester with a range of issues or challenges – health related or not – that we can help with. I learned a lot at the Autism Show and I left buzzing with new ideas which I can share with the team. Not just about supporting autistic people, and the challenges and barriers they face, but also for helping anyone struggling with their mental health. Good strategies and techniques are often transferable!
It was so inspiring to see many young autistic people flourishing at this event, sharing their experiences and inspiring others. There was a real sense that this was a safe space, to be yourself, a supportive community spirit. In that sense it reminded me of being at a Pride event.
I would highly recommend this event for anyone who is on the spectrum or thinks they might be, who supports people on the spectrum, or who has an interest in this area.
David Humphrey, Community Engagement Team