Fighting Words is now an autism friendly organization, ensuring autistic youth nationwide will always have a space to practice creative writing! Two years after beginning their journey with us, AsIAm is delighted to award them autism friendly accreditation. The charity, set up in 2009 by Sean Love and Roddy Doyle, encourages imaginative writing in children, teenagers, and adults. Beginning with school workshops for children as young as 7 and moving up to 18. Programmes include short stories, play writing, film and radio production, comic books and even stand-up comedy. These workshops create a safe environment to help assist young people channel their imagination and express themselves creatively. Fighting Words is among the first cultural institutions to work towards Autism Friendly Accreditation. This involves a comprehensive audit of staff, services and buildings by our Training Team. By completing several key actions and commitments over the past two years, Fighting Words has created a platform for even more voices.
Since 2019, Fighting Words has adapted its physical spaces, provided sensory boxes to all its locations, and consulted with AsIAm to update the volunteer handbook with best practice tips for supporting autistic students. They also created social stories to prepare autistic students for visiting their Dublin centre. As with all autism-friendly spaces, Fighting Words welcomes assistance dogs on premises. For all programmes, both online and in-person, Fighting Words provide forms for autistic participants and their parents. This allows them to give further feedback on how best to support them. As with 2020, Fighting Words has autistic participants at all their summer camps this year.
These measures are not just for autistic children and teenagers. To encourage autistic people to become volunteer mentors, Fighting Words developed a step-by-step guide to the process and liaised with support services for autistic people to provide work experience placements. All of this is underpinned by a Charter of Inclusion laying out their commitment to all the above measures.
Love and Doyle originally set Fighting Words up after observing there was not a strong emphasis on creative writing in school curriculums, despite Ireland’s rich literary and storytelling history. However, the organization now speaks to something even more inclusive. Roddy Doyle previously noted “The ability to put one word after another and create a fascinating sentence followed by another one or to write a screenplay should open to everybody and not just the usual few.” Fighting Words aims to create space where people from all levels of society can express themselves. AsIAm’s accreditation is just the latest step in meeting this goal.
General Manager Sara Bennett agreed “Fighting Words is open to everyone. Our aim is to help children, young people, and adults who previously did not have this opportunity as children, to discover and harness the power of their own imaginations and creative writing skills. Fighting Words is working to make real the human right to participate in the cultural life of the community in all the free programmes we deliver at all our locations and online to children and young people. We welcome autistic people to participate in our programmes and to join our volunteer mentor team and strive to ensure that our programmes and workshop environments are as welcoming and inclusive as possible.”
Fighting Words began a long-term partnership with DCU in 2019, building on previous collaborations. Given that DCU is the first recipient of AsIAm’s Autism Friendly University Award, the partnership created another opportunity to engage with autistic voices. For example, Fighting Words recently presented The Art of Divergence, a collection penned by DCU’s Neurodivergent Society membership.
The last two years has presented challenges for everyone and Fighting Words is no different. However, they quickly adapted by conducting their usual workshops online. Bennett observed their approach of inviting everyone to work at their own pace has proved highly successful, even when people are working remotely. Fighting Words are also currently developing a new website, to apply Autism-Friendly principles throughout the site.
The organization has continued to offer opportunities for children, young people, and adults to share their writing through a variety of initiatives, including That One Time (Frontline workers and their families), Young Storykeeper (Stories by children inspired by lighthouses), Project 5×5 (Stories and poems inspired by people’s 5k limit during the winter lockdown for teens and adults) and What Lives In Your Imagination (Stories by children about animals.) Some of their programmes, such as Write Club for teenshave proved to work even better online than in person.
Bennett concludes “In general, we have found that applying Autism Friendly principles to everything we do results in the best outcomes possible for everyone.” There is no doubt that Fighting Word’s efforts onautism inclusion and acceptance are helping new creative voices to emerge. One of the ten stories selected to be animated from the ‘What Lives in Your Imagination’ project was written by an autistic boy. The story was inspired by a stim toy and was later broadcast for his class at school to great acclaim. The Spring submission by Fighting Words to the Irish Times included a powerful piece on discovering one’s own unique autistic voice.
The autistic community counts several successful writers in its ranks. Aoife Dooley, Jody O’Neill, Naoise Dolan and Temple Grandin just to name a few. However, these writers may only find their talents nurtured later in life, especially if they are not diagnosed until adulthood. In other cases, as with Dara McAnulty’s Diary of a Young Naturalist and Naoki Higashida’s The Reason I Jump, creative writing can offer a profound chance to communicate autistic experiences to the wider world. As a result, it is heartening to know an organization like Fighting Words will create a space for autistic people of all pages to express their authentic self through creative writing.
AsIAm would like to wish Fighting Words continued success on their practices of inclusion, as they continue to grow and reach out to members of the autism community.