Embracing Neurodiversity | Exploring the Endless Opportunities Collaboration Can Bring
In the heart of Canterbury Christ Church University, the BASW Kent branch recently hosted a brilliant event titled Autistic People and Social Work: The Endless Opportunities Collaboration Can Bring. This enlightening workshop, collaboratively facilitated by lived and learned experience colleagues from Kent and Medway's NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust's (KMPT) Transforming Neurodiversity Support programme, delved into the complexities of autism and the unique perspectives it offers. The gathering was not just a meeting; it was an exploration of the challenges and opportunities that emerge when we embrace diverse ways of thinking.
One of the key takeaways from the workshop was the understanding that there is nothing inherently 'wrong' with autistic people; their brains simply work differently. This crucial insight challenges stereotypes and encourages a shift in perception. It was emphasised that embracing the neurodiversity of people can unlock endless possibilities for collaboration and mutual growth.
During the event, attendees were introduced to valuable resources, such as the website 'austistically,' which provides a platform to further understand autistic experiences. Additionally, it was noted that both Skills for Care and BASW offer specific guidelines on working with autistic people, promoting a more inclusive and supportive social work environment.
Participants were told about the preference of many autistic people to be referred to in terms of their 'autistic experience,' rather than being confined to the limiting labels of being "on the spectrum" or having a "disorder." This simple shift in language fosters a more respectful and understanding dialogue.
The workshop also shed light on the nuances of autistic behaviour, particularly concerning eye contact. While reduced or absent eye contact is commonly associated with autism, it was revealed that atypical presentations, such as excessive eye contact, also exist. Understanding these subtleties is vital for meaningful social interactions.
One significant aspect highlighted during the workshop was the importance of sensory experiences for autistic people. Acknowledging and respecting these sensory sensitivities can significantly enhance their well-being and comfort in various environments.
A striking revelation was the disparity between clinical definitions of autism, which often focus on challenges, and the lived experiences of autistic people, which are multifaceted and diverse. The workshop emphasised the need to move away from negative language and pathologizing people with labels, urging social workers to adopt a more person-centred approach.
The event also addressed the critical issue of mental health within the autistic community. Autistic people may experience mental health challenges differently from a neurotypical person. Standard psychological questionnaires and therapies designed for neurotypical individuals might not always be suitable for those on the autistic spectrum. This disparity underscores the necessity for tailored, empathetic mental health support.
A poignant moment of reflection came when the workshop discussed the alarming rates of suicide among autistic people. Often, these numbers are underestimated, as they can only be recorded as suicides when intent is proven. Suicide prevention measures, unfortunately, are predominantly geared towards neurotypicals. Autistic people might constantly battle thoughts of suicide, keeping the idea as a ‘safety net’ in their minds. This grim reality emphasises the urgent need for specialised, understanding support systems.
Perhaps one of the most inspiring aspects of the workshop was the use of autistic people as leaders in training programmes about autism. Their firsthand experiences provide invaluable insights and authentic perspectives, enhancing the effectiveness of training initiatives.
In conclusion, the meeting held by the BASW Kent branch at Canterbury Christ Church University was a testament to the power of collaboration, understanding, and acceptance. The insights shared during this event have illuminated new pathways for social work, where differences are celebrated, and the unique strength of every person is recognised. By embracing neurodiversity and learning from the lived experiences of autistic people, social work can truly become a beacon of inclusivity and support, paving the way for a more compassionate and understanding society.
BASW's Neurodivergent Social Workers Special Interest Group meets online on the last Tuesday of every month. For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org