ALAG Conference 2019 review by Ricki

    On Thursday 17 October 2019 ALAG held its first conference to celebrate its fifth year as an independent charity.

    It was entitled ‘Overcoming Barriers: Neurodiversity in Autism’ and was held at the Indian YMCA
    near Warren Street. Over 70 people attended and the event was extremely well received. 

    The goal of the conference was to improve delegates’ understanding of
    what it feels like to be autistic, how autistic people may present, some issues
    that may arise in their lives and how to move towards overcoming them. To this
    end, ALAG brought together as speakers both autistic people and professionals
    working in clinical or research settings to share their insights on different
    facets of the condition and life with it. We also had a contribution by a
    mother and an uncle of an autistic teenager, who spoke movingly about their
    care and support for him.

    The morning started with a very informative talk on autism and gender identity by Ruth Millman, in which she shed light
    on transgender identities. The topic is important as autistic people are much
    more likely than neurotypical people to be transgender or to not identify with traditional
    gender roles. Ruth also gave thought to the difficulties of being doubly
    marginalised in society: once by virtue of being autistic and once by being
    transgender. She is planning to set up a trans group for autistic people in the
    new year. The next presentation looked at autism
    and mental health support. Based on lived experience, it focused on ways
    people can make mental health support more accessible to autistic people.

    After a short break for refreshments, Dr Jason Crabtree spoke on autism and ageing. Based on his recent
    research, he discussed how the cognitive profiles of autistic people tend to
    differ from that of neurotypical people and how these differences seem to
    remain stable over time. Towards the end of the talk, he also discussed executive functioning in autism,
    another fascinating area. Lunch offered the opportunity for networking over
    some delicious original Indian food.

    The afternoon was kicked off by Alain English who offered the audience
    an insight into his life and experience
    of autism through poetry. The
    performance eloquently brought home some of the very real difficulties autistic
    people experience on a daily and ongoing basis. This was followed by a
    fantastic talk on autism in girls and women by Dr Will Mandy from University
    College London, which explained how and why autism can look different in girls and women and might get missed
    by diagnosticians. He discussed both differences in presentations and trajec d.
    tories but made it clear that these are tendencies as some boys/men present
    more like girls/women and vice versa.

    Jennifer Barker related her own
    experience of autism. Two things stood out from her talk: first, how
    difficult it can be to realise one is different from most other people and the
    impact this can have on self-confidence and second, that, regardless of being
    autistic, it can be possible to have a meaningful and successful life. The last
    speaker, Wendy Tuson, a Speech and Language therapist, gave an intriguing look behind the scenes of the social
    communication group she facilitates for the NHS. She explained how she
    learned what works and what doesn’t and why. It was refreshing to see with how
    much thought and care she and her co-facilitator invest their work. The
    conference was brought to a flamboyant close by Alain again who had created a poetry medley on the conference themes.

    I enjoyed the wide mix of topics and expertise and the fact that roughly
    an equal number of speakers were personally affected by autism compared to the
    number of professionals who spoke. It was great that this conference was a true
    collaboration between autistic and neurotypical people with the shared goal of
    improving understanding about and acceptance of autism.

    by Amy Shindler, directed by Sally Knyvette

    ALAG members were invited by the actress and director, Sally Knyvette, to see the new play BURNING BRIDGES. On Wednesday 28 September, a group of 25 ALAG members went along to Theatre503 in Battersea where they thoroughly enjoyed the evening.
    We are pleased to share a review of the play by one of our members.
    “It was fascinating to see a play about a girl with Asperger syndrome, as
    there are so many stories of boys with AS. The play showed the tensions and sibling rivalry within a family and the pressures of balancing work and family commitments. It showed how emotionally overwhelming and depressing life can be for someone with AS. Throughout the play, it is revealed that whilst AS is life long, it is possible to learn certain cognitive and social skills over time, just not in the same way as a neuro-typical person does. I found the play captivating, thought provoking and important for people with and without AS to see.”

    by Alex Jones

    ALAG celebrated World Autism Awareness Week with a trip to the Gielgud theatre on Thursday 7th April to see – ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’   
    “It was great to catch up with others in the group and the play was a real treat. I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought the actors were superb, especially the actor who played the main character, Christopher Boone. I loved the way the audience were given an insight into Christopher's perception of the world, of language and of other people's behaviours. The play was full of surprises and was absolutely captivating. The lighting and sound effects as well as the stage itself were impressive and added to the unique experience of the play. I had a fantastic evening and would recommend it to anyone.”

    Alex Jones

    Tate Modern visit...7th February 2016
    On a windy Sunday afternoon, a small group of ALAGers braved the elements and descended on London's Tate Modern gallery.  We were to explore the globally coveted permanent collection – a treasure chest of modern art. There were some fascinating collages and abstract, paint splattered pieces.  I especially enjoyed the more naïve, child like stuff.  Inevitably, there was a feeling that some of the work erred on the side of pretentious.  A series of canvases by Mark Rothko were extremely minimal “I think you're supposed to ponder them”, someone said. A sculpture that looked like cuts of raw meat squashed together was a big talking point too.  It prompted mixed reactions, according to each person’s artistic pallet.  Being amongst such amazing material provoked some high brow conversations about all kinds of things, not just the art itself.  Our attempts to enter the top floor cafe were rebuked, as it turns out you have to be a Tate member.  But this didn't detract from a highly enjoyable and mentally stimulating day out.

    Joe Marshall

    We are very pleased to share the following review of the December social by one of our members:
    "The ALAG social for December 2015 was well attended. Raj displayed some of his work which was very impressive . Alain recited one of his poems and another two by other authors.  Paul also read some of his own poems.  Both performers were excellent.  We then heard a talk by Alex Jones, a graphic designer who has Asperger's syndrome, in which he told us how he overcame stress and developed new social skills through improvised comedy. He learnt to use a technique called 'Improv' where the comedy arises - not because it is planned - but comes about through the participants improvisation on a theme.  Two members, Paul & Jennifer, have recently joined a salsa dance class and we were treated to a display of them performing a salsa dance to close the meeting.  Afterwards Sohrab was on hand with some work from his recent exhibition for anyone to look at. I thought it was very good." 

    Ngaere Williams

    Victoria and Albert Museum.
    On Sunday 15th January, a few members of ALAG attended the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington.  I and two other members concentrated mostly on the Chinese and the Japanese sections.  There were many interesting artefacts in both these sections including a throne used by one of the emperors.   It seemed that he was very fat with short legs.  Other members went to different sections and were shown around by one of our number, Raj Tattal who is an expert on Sikh art.  All in all it was an interesting and enjoyable day out.  A further visit has been suggested.

    Desmond Meldrum