Apologies for the delay in getting to the next part! As you can imagine, a lot has been happening in the world of autism. Nevertheless, I couldn’t very well leave Autistic Paddies out!
Joan McDonald began the broadcast by highlighting areas for improvement in Autism Acceptance month “Autistic people are right at the back of the queue when it comes to April.” With larger non-autistic led charities and advocacy groups, Joan stressed the need for community action. She explained, as someone who received a diagnosis at a later age, her perspective of pride. “I grew up in Catholic Ireland. I was born in between Black Pride and Gay Pride. It’s about your right to exist on an equal footing with everyone. The world is not designed around our needs.” She finished her introduction by noting “Our needs aren’t being met because people don’t understand them” before opening the floor to the rest of the speakers.
Frank Ludwig was first up. He read poems from his collection ‘Lines from the Spectrum,’ but not before discussing his own theories about autism and its role in human evolution. His poems focused on themes of individuality, uniqueness, and social isolation. Speaks strongly in favour of the autistic voice as one of progress and growth in the world.
Next, there was Jacob Moylan. Jacob normally writes short stories and scripts (he occasionally even does stand up!) but chose to share some poetry. The poem ‘Mask’ tells the experience of ‘masking’ or hiding one’s autistic traits. In moving slant rhymes, Jacob speaks of the trauma caused by hiding oneself. I’m tempted to quote it but it needs to be heard to feel the power!
There was also some musical interludes during the broadcast. Peter Hand played Covid Love Song, a witty turn on romantic rock music. He addresses an unseen lover asking to ‘isolate with you’ doing the pandemic. James, who previously sang in Autivision, sang a wonderful cover of Impossible Dream. His mother Paula read several of her own poems. Her work, like many of the Autistic Paddies’, shows a strong interest in nature. Her uses weed as an excellent metaphor for being held down. Snow drop flowers and spring flowers were used to symbolise potential for hope.
Melissa Mooney then spoke about her experience attending the first Autistic Paddies picnic. Having found the idea of meeting a lot of new people a scary prospect, Melissa came up with a novel solution. She brought a Special Interest board for stimulating conversation, with community members putting their favourite interests on the board. She encouraged this system as a way to make new friends. After other speakers and entertainers, Melissa stood up in front of the group and spoke about her board. As a writer, Melissa doesn’t often feel empowered to engage in public speaking. However, she felt safe in front of her people. “You don’t need to mask. You’re with your people.” Melissa wrapped up, praising Autistic Paddies as a “Neverending fountain of support.”
Danni Burke who works for Galway Autism Partership, followed They spoke about depression, suicidal thoughts and numerous hospital visits before diagnosis. Danni remains adamant about the agency and understanding a diagnosis provided “Had I not been diagnosed I don’t think I would be alive.” Shortly after this, another autistic friend put Danni in touch with AutPad. On the back of this community spirit, Danni and other friends set up their own version of AutPad in Galway. They stressed “Autistic people need to organise things, but sometimes people don’t have the spoons.” Danni rounded off by saying they never felt proud before diagnosis and this pride is a necessity moving forward.
Dr. Bastien Confais spoke next from his home in Nantes, France. He spoke comprehensively about the autistic community in France and the challenges they face. Bastien pointed out “Autism is still seen through the medical model. We still speak about it with words like illness and disorder. We never consider autism through the accessibility aspect” To strengthen this, Bastien pointed to correspondence with other French autistic people.
Maxime spoke of his experience being given a dangerous combination of medications. Maxime is currently unemployed with two days a week in a community centre and the remainder of his time with his parents. He confesses he is not the only one in this situation. Bastien, with the support of Autistic Paddies, plans to start a similar group in Nantes. He looks forward to the social aspect but elaborate “I also think this partnership is an opportunity to show to autistic people here in France how autism is perceived abroad, what they could do and to show them the life of positive aspects they could expect.”
DCU Neurodivergent society was next to speak. Following DCU establishing its status as the world’s first Autism Friendly University, its students followed up by creating the world’s first Neurodivergent Student Society. The society chair, Laocín Kelly, taking the advice of Dr. Cat Hughes, felt Autism Friendly University should engage more on a student level and ‘If not me then who, if not now then when?’” The society’s purpose is to unite and support students across the neurodiversity spectrum. As equipment officer Derek Walsh puts it “It’s a group of people who think differently.” OCM adds Conor Marsh “the society has had a very positive impact on my college life…there was always a group there that I could participate with and have a conservation with at any time.” Laocín has big plans for the society in the coming years. He wants to encourage other colleges to form their own Neurodivergent Societies and to create an anthology uniting different neurodivergent artists. In an extract from My Big Idea, the documentary about different SEI organisations, Laocín remarks “There’s still a dissonance between where we think we are, where we need to be, and how we get there.”
An extract from Jody O’Neill’s What I (Don’t) Know About Autism, served as the penultimate part of Autistic Paddies’ offering. A Brief History of Autism is a musical number in Scene 17 of the play. Defying ideas of autism as a condition of the modern world, the song points to people who lived before the diagnostic criteria were set out. Newton, Einstein, Tesla, Dickonson, Christian Anderson and Darwin are all mentioned. Leaping on from Darwin’s theory of evolution, the song zips to the 1940s and the hayday of eugenics Dr. Leo Kanner operated in. After discussing the flaws of the medical the song’s grand finale ushers in Neurodiversity and the autistic community as a high point in this history.
Stuart Nielson finished the lineup with his short film Creating Autism. His film poses the question “Who creates the meaning of autism or the identities other autistic people inhabit?” He began by focusing on changing definitions within the context of the DSM, going from a childhood psychosis to a broad spectrum of differences. Nielson argues “Autism has been many things and autism is continuously created and recreated,” making a static definition difficult.
He then turned his attention to language. Having analysed newspaper coverage nationwide, Nielson notes that articles mentioning autism in Leinster focus on government services whereas those in Connaught focus on medical research genetics. Ulster is identified as angry and fearful and more in line with NHS definitions. Finally, Munster is marked by community action and activism. Nielson concluded by observing Autism is a noun and a subject in its own right whereas Autistic is an adjective that demands to be followed by a human subject. “When we pick the words we use about autism, we change autism.”
Autistic Paddies were followed by David Gray-Hammond of Neuroclastic. He was joined by Riah Person and Jules Edwards. Gray-Hammond explained Neuroclastic was designed to be for underrepresented voices in autism community. They dedicated the video they played to Oshime Brown and Matthew Rushin, two young autistic black men imprisoned in the UK and US respectively.
Barbara Herran was their first speaker defining what an autistic friendly society. She placed a lot of emphasis on childhood and nurturing, saying this society would be one “where parents of autistic children understand that they’re children feel differently and try to help them manage and understand and build on that understanding of how they feel and perceive the world differently, rather than trying to impose their view of the world on them…in order to have more welcomed, validated, respected and fulfilled adults.”
Ammad Siddiqi, speaking from Pakistan placed more emphasis on the variation within the spectrum and the need for solidarity “people can and are allowed to differ from each other and I believe the same holds for autistic individuals.”
Huang Vong, a nonspeaking community member, focused on education while communicating through a spelling board. He said “I want to spell like this in school and still be accepted. I don’t want to be judged and thought of as lesser.”
Emma Budway, also nonspeaking, emphasised the value of community. “My LGBTQ friends and allies will always feel safe and included. Everyone would have a friend, everybody would be themselves and everyone else could stop staring.
Emmanuel was next, arguing for diversity as a necessity. “A community I aspire to have is a community where curiosity, fairness, understanding, they’re not unique aspects. They’re something that drives us forward to be better, to be more understanding, to carry on not just for myself but for future generations of people that are on the spectrum…Where they focused on what they cared about and not have to worry about rent or food being able to obtain medical assistance or any of the other numerous things that people on the spectrum like us need.”
Nico Joncour, speaking via a computer said the autistic community is safe “If it is united despite the attacks.”
Shiquana AKA Genesiz, was next. An aspiring model, Genesiz was diagnosed in 2015 but was tested at the age of three. She is emblematic of women, especially women of colour, being underdiagnosed in mainstream society. She is an aspiring model, who hopes to showcase disability more in the world of modelling. When explaining autism she said autism is her normal and didn’t know how else to experience the world but admitted there are aspects she doesn’t like, such as difficulty perceiving sarcasm or crying easily. She explained she doesn’t leave the house often and although she knows many autistic people online, she hasn’t met any in person. “A lot of white people, white doctors treat people of colour and black people like we don’t get sick or have problems. I want to see the stigma erased.”
Mónica Vidal, board member of Neuroclastic, dreamed of a Spanish-speaking autistic pride. She noted that compared to English-speaking countries, experts ignore autistic voices and have very little understanding of non-verbal communication. “What the autistic community has nourished me and given to me has no price.”
Deidre: montage of music and art
Paula read several of her own poems. Her work, like many of the Autistic Paddies’, shows a strong interest in nature. Her uses weed as an excellent metaphor for being held down. Snow drop flowers and spring flowers were used to symbolise potential for hope.