DRF session on the 8th of May focused on autism

On the 8th of May in Arundel 10212A, we will have a Disability Reading Group and Disability Research Forum session. This DRF session will contain two separate presentations with a focus on enabling research on and with autistic people. From 12:30pm to 1:30pm, we will discuss the following article:

Milton, D. E. (2014). Autistic expertise: a critical reflection on the production of knowledge in autism studies. Autism18(7), 794-802.

The DRF session takes place in the same room from 2pm to 4pm and will consist of contributions from two researchers who are involved in inclusive autism research. The first speaker is Marianthi Kourti from Birmingham University.

Autistic autism professionals: Facing the stigma and managing the emotional labour

Autistic individuals often have very little power in the creation of autism spaces. They are seen as the service users whose needs are assessed and serviced by non-autistic individuals. Autistic professionals have tried to challenge that narrative in recent years, trying to include the autistic voice in the decision-making process both as academics and as professionals working with autistic individuals. This paper focuses on the unique identity of being an autistic autism professional and being in the intersection of two identities often considered incompatible with each other.

First of all, being an autistic autism professional comes with significant emotional labour. Employers often don’t seem ready or able to recognise the needs of an autistic employee, even if they provide extensive training for working with autistic service users. Presenting the autistic individual as only being the one in need ignores the needs of an autistic professional. Autistic professionals are faced with dealing with the ableist views of their non-autistic co-workers and the responsibility to address them. They are often treated in a tokenistic way by their organisation, a position which is very difficult to challenge for many reasons.

As members of the autistic community, autistic professionals are faced with the challenges autistic individuals face during and after work. They may have friends and loved ones who are frequently in crisis and face many barriers and, once in a position of a relative power, they feel a burden of responsibility for creating visibility and employment opportunities for their community, whose foundations as a community have been created by many hours of unpaid labour by many of its members. Simultaneously, they have to keep challenging institutions and organisations who may employ them about their inaccessibility to the autistic community as a whole.

Finally, autistic autism professionals deal with others’ internalised ableism, whilst constantly facing and challenging the damaging mainstream autism discourse and managing the nuances of stigmatisation. For all the above reasons, I think it’s important to talk about the contested identity of the autistic autism professional in a meaningful, intersectional way.

Our second speaker is Daniel Bendelman from the University of Kent.

Practice as Research within Critical Autism Studies from an artist/researchers perspective

Practice as Research (PaR), is an emerging academic field of enquiry which is concerned with epistemological enquiry situated within the practice of an array of art forms. This can range from dance, to performance and live art aesthetics. This offers artist researchers the opportunity to incorporate their own artistic practice as a field of academic research and situated place of enquiry.

In my presentation I will present some of my past pieces of PaR as an autistic researcher, concerned with the interrogation of the way the media produces a narrative of autism often rooted within stereotypes. These serve to reinforce ignorance surrounding the lived-in experience of autism.

I will speak about two past pieces of my work, ‘Fragments’ which was a PaR installation exploring the conflict between the phenomenological, semi-autobiographical experience of the ‘self’, when in opposition to mediated portrayals of autism. I will explain my working process and research behind the piece, and public impact. My second PaR piece I will speak about will be ‘We Were Here…’, this piece was loosely based on Frank Kafka’s ‘The Trial’, and was a post-dramatic exploration of the impact that the removal of Aspergers Syndrome from the DSM-5 had on my own experience as someone who was diagnosed with A.S from a young age and now strongly identifies with its history and culture.

After this I will briefly speak about the thinkers who most influence my work, and how I will be incorporating their discourses throughout my practice in my PaR PhD to offer ways of generating new knowledge within the field of both Critical Autism Studies and Performance studies.

Formally trained at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, Daniel Bendelman is due to start his practice as research PhD at The University of Kent. Daniel is an installation artist, working around the topic of media representations of autism in the media and his research is concerned with the problematics that such representations work to produce within the public sphere, applying live art methodologies to produce new ways of challenging these discourses through the field of Critical Autism Studies and Performance Studies.