Annual Conference 2014: What is Autism, really?

Our Annual Conference in October this year was a great success. What made it so unique was that each speaker and panel member was on the autistic spectrum and could draw not only on their professional knowledge of autism, but their extensive personal experience as well.

There were four topical presentations in the morning, and a 'Question Time' style panel discussion in the afternoon, fielding questions from the audience.

Our speakers included:

Dr Dinah Murray
Dinah is a worker, researcher, writer, campaigner and teacher regarding autism and its variants.  With three degrees including linguistics and philosophy, Dinah has written, researched and published about it extensively and presented in the UK and abroad. Her books include ‘Coming Out Asperger’ and ‘Getting IT’. Dinah has spent thousands of hours working one to one with non-speaking autistic adults, and has been assessed as on the autism spectrum herself.  She is currently involved in developing the Autistic Space Kit app, funded by the 3 Guineas Trust.

Dinah's talk focused on what we can and should do to change the world, rather than the individual, and what we can’t.

Dinah Murray _1

Janine Booth
Janine is the author of 'Autism in the Workplace', a handbook for trade unionists published in May 2014 by the Trade Union Congress. She also runs 'Autism in the Workplace' training for trade unionists for the Workers' Educational Association. Janine has an autistic sonand was diagnosed herself as being on the autistic spectrum in 2012 at the age of 45.

Janine’s talk identified how employers make life difficult for autistic workers (or those with autistic dependents), creating the current situation in which only 15% of autistic adults are in full-time employment. She showed how through trade unions, autistic workers can compel employers to make workplaces more autism-friendly and remove discrimination and barriers.

Alain English
Alain was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome aged 16. He moved to London in 2005 to pursue his dream of being an actor and later became a debater and performance poet.

Alain spoke about his time growing up with Asperger's Syndrome and his battles to survive in London while coping with his condition. He then followed up his presentation with an exceptional set of performance poetry!



Russell Stronach

Russell’s 24 year old son was diagnosed autistic in 1997 which eventually led to his own diagnosis in 2004 aged 45. Russell is chairman of Autistic UK, a charity run by autistic people for autistic people. He hopes to leave behind him a sustainable national Autistic People’s Organisation, with representation in every local authority area in the UK.

Steve Barker
Steve was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome as a teenager, and diagnosed with autism in February this year. He is currently the secretary of Autistic UK and of Autistic North East.

Russell and Steve asked the question: "What is Autism, really?"

Russell ,Steve _1

Damian Milton
MA, PGCert, BA (Hons), Dip (conv), PGCE, Mifl, MBPsS
Damian is currently studying for a doctorate with the Autism Centre for Educational Research at the University of Birmingham. He is a member of this department’s steering group, as well as the programme board for the Autism Education Trust and a member of the scientific and advisory committee for Research Autism. He also works at London South Bank University on a research project looking at mentoring for young adults on the autism spectrum. Damian’s interest in autism began when his son was diagnosed in 2005 as autistic at the age of two. Damian was also diagnosed with Asperger’s in 2009 at the age of 36.

Damian took part in the panel discussion after lunch.

Julian Morgan
Written off at eight, and 14 as 'educationally sub-normal', Julian later attained his degree at Chichester and now enjoys challenging 'experts' on what autistic children can achieve when their needs are properly met. More recently, Julian has become a national committee member of Autistic UK through the West Sussex Asperger's Awareness Group; one of two user groups set up under the aegis of the West Sussex County Council's Autism Planning Group implementing their Autism Strategy, grown out of the Autism Act 2009.

Julian was moderator of the panel discussion after lunch.

Panel _3


“I enjoyed the whole day because the content was practical, accessible and radical.”

“All the speakers were great.”

"Encouraged me to think more broadly and challenge accepted thinking and received wisdom."

“Alain English’s poems were fantastic!”

“Janine was excellent – thinking about work etc.”

"I'm taking back suggestions about reasonable adjustments to people I work with."

“Performance poetry was brilliant!”

 “Alain English was really compelling – his performance helped me understand my son.  Very moving.”

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