Autism is a spectrum of lifelong neurodevelopmental conditions that often presents various challenges for autistic people and their families.
It is estimated that there are around 700,000 people in the UK with an autism diagnosis. Together with their families they make up around 2.8 million people, whose lives are touched by autism every single day. The experience of autism can bring positive opportunities, great inspiration, innovation and creativity.
The main aim of this event is to celebrate the achievements of those touched by autism. We want the Festival to be an opportunity for people to come together in order to celebrate the positive aspects of autism. We also hope to improve the understanding of autism amongst educational,health, medical and social care professionals through this event. It is our community and we care about everyone within it; everyone is different, unique and valued.
We are planning on various programmes throughout April 2017, which is known to be autism awareness month.
We hope to bring together various collaborative partners from across South Wales to participate in this festival of autism.
Everyone is invited and we hope you can join us for the festival.
On the 23 April, we held an event called Festival of Autism which took me 7 months to organise, was held in Swansea University. People have asked me “Why did I not make a speech at the festival?”
Also, during the festival people said to me “Well done Hazel, the festival is a great success!” Sincerely, I did not know what to say hence I could only smiled back..
It has been five days since the festival and I have since been able to review the event in my mind, from the feedback on Facebook, messages, phone calls and people talking to me, the vibe is a very positive one. Thank you for all the support.
The Day of the Festival
After a long day at the festival, we went to Nines buffet for our dinner. The children were still excited and they were talking about the 20 impressions of Rob. Out of the sudden, Noah asked me “Why did you want to do this mum?”… I paused for a little while and answered “Because of you, you are the reason I became so inspired!” And it took me back to a year ago.
I thank God for giving us the courage to make the decision to make a change, we moved to Swansea from London in 2015 to do MSc in Autism and Related Condition in Swansea University. It was because of Noah I wanted to learn more about autism but only just started the course I realised the calling is greater than that.
The MSc course has opened my eyes to a whole new world and my heart has certainly drawn to it. It was so fascinating! From all the research that I was doing and the amount of literature that I was reading during the course, I learnt so much that I changed. I changed the way I look at autism, I changed the attitude towards Noah so much, all I wanted was to ensure he could have all the support he needed to help him to embrace his condition and to develop himself to give him the mental attitude that he can achieve, can be a part of everything and anything he wants to. Noah’s artwork, his expression, it has developed to very high standards and always been my inspiration. So I approached Dr.Gareth, knowing that he was developing a SHARE concept and always welcoming new ideas, I approached him and asked if SHARE would be interested in holding an art exhibition for Noah to showcase his achievement. The conversation between Dr.Gareth and I began and that was April last year, exactly a year ago when we first talked about this.
I then later on went to London in June to attend A day with Temple Grandin, a noted autisitic who is an author, a speaker and is a cited expert in many autism publications, which kind of took me to another level of change. I was so inspired by Temple Grandin and additional of four UK autistic speakers on the day. On my way back from London to Swansea, I thought it was a shame that none of my peers came with me and how wonderful if many of the other parents I met in Swansea could have benefit from these speakers! This was the best conference from the many I have attended throughout the year. I also remembered many coffee mornings and activities that I have attended, there was a lot of sad stories, all leading to negative thoughts and feelings and I thought to myself, we have to change this! I spoke further with Dr.Gareth and extended the idea of organising an event to showcase the positive world of autism, having an autistic speaker’s only conference. Dr. Gareth was supportive from the beginning. It was for the course that he started and his faith and trust in me, his positive spirit was empowering to all that I was doing, is a huge part of the journey that got me to where we are now! Thank you, it has been a privilege and a pleasure!
I am so glad that we brought back the four speakers I met at the Temple Grandin conference to Festival of Swansea, and to have Rob and Anna co-comparing, Jack to do the music opening… and to see the success that the whole event has been, I still find it amazing that it has all actually happened. There were many personal and work opportunities that I had to turn down so that I could focus on the Festival in the past few months, I had to choose to live with my instincts and passion, not the money in the pocket. I was driven by inspiration and hope that many parents can be empowered and possibly provide life-changing results. I was holding very little expectation in what I was doing, my hope being that the efforts would conclude in being a positive influence, even if just for a couple of individuals and that would be worth it.
With the event turning out to be a greater success than I could possibly imagined and with so many have people stating that they were inspired and some even went so far as to say it has changed their outlook, that it will make a huge difference to their lives going forwards, those peoples comments and thanks, I have to pass on.
I am not going to be able to name everyone, but to those who helped, gave their expertise, their will, their wisdom and their time, thank you so very much, you know who you are. Everyone took on the genuineness of wanting to create an event that is not only a first, but is an event that has touched, inspired and will go on inspiring to make life better. The influence and conversation is going to keep on going. Thank you.
The first few days since the Festival has felt similar to each deadline of the essay submission of each module of the MSc course – lots of house chores to catch up! Today, while I have cleared three full baskets of laundry with all the clothes cleaned and back to the wardrobe, with a little smile and feeling in my heart, that we have achieved something very special.
Thank you for reading and thank you for being part of the #autismfestival17. It would not have happened without all of your support. So, about #autismfestival18….
Jack Loo, 44, is the song-writer for the Festival of Autism. The theme song is a special composition completed in a one-off recording.
“Music is in my life, it is almost part of me,” Jack explains.
“It is a natural process – the form of music attracts and connects me. It is natural for most people to speak when they communicate, but I find it much easier to communicate and express myself through music,” he adds.
In 2016, he was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome / High Functioning Autism. Jack recalls, “I was trapped inside of me, and before the diagnosis, I could not understand why.”
After the diagnosis of his son and his wife’s encouragement and support, Jack finally came forth for diagnosis.
The diagnosis helps him find identity and confidence. “Before I came to know about Autism, there were a lot of things that would happen that I didn’t quite understand, and judgments from others about my behaviours. After I started to know about this neurodevelopment condition, life began making sense,” he says.
When asked if there is one thing he wants people to know about Autism, Jack’s answer is “Anxiety”.
Jack hopes this Festival can improve understanding of Autism among all walks of life.
“I am hopeful to expect everyone possibly comes in contact with Autistic people, such as people works in the supermarket, waiters and teachers. I hope all are willing to understand more about Autism and attend the conference of the festival,” he says.
Tell us something you would like people to know about you…
I am sensitive, I am good at maths and I don’t like to be bored. I moved from London to Swansea.
When did you start drawing and why?
I don’t know when I started drawing. But I heard that I started to draw at five, during the period my mother was diagnosed with cancer. They said I drew a lot of big characters holding up weapons, it was like I wanted to protect my mother.
How do you get inspiration to draw?
I don’t really know, basically I think I get inspiration from everything around me.
What other things you enjoy doing other than drawing?
I enjoy reading (if books were food, I think I would be very fat), DIY stuffs and being creative. I also do surfing (with Ben at Surfibility) and boy ballet (with James at Counterpoint Theatre Arts).
How did you hear about this Festival? And what do you think about it?
From my mother. And I was also involved in designing the very first poster for the Festival of Autism. I think this Festival is going to be interesting.
Which is your favourite drawing that will be displayed in the exhibition and why?
The long piece: my 100+ Pokemon characters. I like them because I think they are well drawn and it’s a great achievement for me. I have lots of drawings at home, but I only picked those original from my imagination to exhibit except this one and a few others.
What do you want people to get out from your art work?
If there’s one thing you want people to know about Autism, what would it be?
Robyn Steward is a musician, artist , autism trainer and consultant and is also Autistic. Robyn started work in the world of autism in 2004 and since then she has worked as a mentor to autistic people and has had a book published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, “The Independent Woman’s Handbook for Super Safe Living on the Autistic Spectrum” , the book has been translated into Russian and sold across the world.
Robyn has spoken at many different conferences and events across the world including Australia ,USAand Europe.
Robyn became a trainer for non-autistic people because she realised that if she could help non-autistic people understand autistic people, they could help autistic people understand non-autistic people, and therefore both groups would be of benefit to one another each maximising their potential.
Robyn has also been a consultant to a number of TV programmes and plays ,including the Autistic Gardner and The National Theatre’s production of ‘The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night Time’. She has appeared on national television and radio.
Robyn, as a musician, plays the Trumpet , guitar , keys and sings and her music has become a big part of many of her talks especially those to young people.
Robyn has her own band “Robyn Steward and the Hatonauts” who are an avant garde jazz band and she is releasing an EP later this year which is being mixed by Andy Diagram (of the band James) ,
In 2015, Robyn was a joint awardee of the National Autistic Societies professional award for outstanding achievement by an individual on the Autistic Spectrum.
Robyn had a year on the Department of Health autism programme board and is now on the Autism Education Trust’s programme board , she is a visiting research associate at CRAE (Centre for Research in Autism and Education) at University College London, Institute of Education, she is interested in learning more about how individual autistic people’s experiences differ from one another, and championing the voice of autistic people.
Occupation: Safeguard and Officer at RSPCA Llys Nini & Manager at ASDES (Autism Spectrum Disorder Employment Support)
N: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your role in this festival?
J: I’ve worked in further education for over 18 years and I’ve managed the department for young people with additional learning needs.
How I got to know about the festival is that one of our trustees Kath Prothrow had a link with the people in the MSc Autism course in Swansea University; I’ve been doing this photography project for about a year and when Kath spoked to Hazel about the project, she’d thought it’d be a good idea to put it in the festival.
N: What are you hoping to capture during the festival?
J: In the year project that we’ve done, it’s been a mixture of my two jobs; with ASDES, we do social group opportunities and take them up to Llys Nini once a month and combine their keen interest in photograph. With Llys Nini, we needed the documentation of the woodland sights, therefore we included the young people on the autistic spectrum to start capturing images in different ways to what we would generally do. We then get to use the images in the exhibit, as part of the festival and it would just help to show that the people in the autistic spectrum, are very talented.
N: What did you gain from your experience working with autistic children?
J: To see somebody grow and developing confidence and to see somebody realise that they’ve got a talent, it is just something you can’t put into words. You find something in somebody and you develop that, it’s not about how somebody fits into this job, it’s about what that person is and how you develop.
N: How do you think taking photographs (or this project) can help with autistic young individuals?
J: Communication is really difficult with people who are in the autistic spectrum, and emotions can be equally as difficult or even more difficult, we have done different types of activities to overcome this. This also meant that people were meeting new friends, socializing together and they were actually doing a very worthwhile task for another organisation.
N: What inspired you to get involved with this project?
J: I think it’s because I’ve got these two jobs and it was just something that just merged so nicely, the quiet calm place of Llys Nini and to actually use this as an opportunity for participants documenting the woods, the natural landscape and the fact that it is a social opportunity for ASDES and it just merges together beautifully.
N: What are the themes to your series of photographs?
J: There’s photographs that represents every month and that was taken by the participants and now that can be totally different and that’s really okay because there is no right or wrong with this, and that was the nice thing, nobody got anything wrong even for a blurred image. It does not matter what they looked like, but it’s the fact that somebody’s got a photograph and it will be in the exhibition.
N: If there’s one thing you want people to know about Autism, what would it be?
‘They’ve got potential, everybody’s got potential inside them, there’s an opportunity, it’s just about finding it’
Jon Adams works cross platform referencing‘Synaesthesia Aspergers’, autobiography, science and hidden metaphor. The result is a unique visual perspective of recording systemising history, time and place. Working as a book illustrator, his attention to detail earned him a reputation for quality work.
His work includes maps of train conversations, daily noting of his engagement with the Cultural Olympiad as a ‘geological map’, Leverhulme and Wellcome trust awards have seen him creating soundscapes from Supernovae with The institute of Cosmology & Gravitation and from ‘fMRI machines’ at the Autism Research Centre with Prof Simon Baron Cohen.
He supported International director Sir Peter Brook with autobiographical research for the play ‘The Valley of Astonishment’. ‘Democracy Street’ a current Speakers Art Fund commission and performing his own autobiographical work ‘Games with the water Horse’ at Venice Biennale and Turner Contemporary in 2015. He is a champion for Autism MentalHealth based in Coventry and a cultural ambassador for the NAS.
Jamie + his plush sidekick Lion are an autistic duo with a focus on using technology to enhance the lives of others. Their day job at the BBC focuses on the accessibility of apps and websites, formally they acted as tech lead on iPlayer radio and as a senior developer in BBC platform engineering.
Jamie is a full time alternative communication user. Jamie has worked with a range of clients such as Apple, the National Autistic Society, Various universities and broadcasters around the world. Jamie is currently transitioning into independent living. In his spare time Jamie enjoys sensory toys, colouring, coding, lego and rebuilding Mazda MX5 engine.
Dean Beadle has toured the UK for ten years sharing his experiences of life with Aspergers Syndrome. In recent years he has also spoken in Denmark, Belgium, Guernsey and Ireland as well as undertaking four annual seminar tours of Australia and New Zealand. Through his humorous and insightful speeches Dean outlines his positive outlook on his diagnosis. In 2011 Dean’s speaking was brought to a wider audience, as a clip of one of his speeches was viewed across the world on Youtube.
He is also an experienced journalist, having been published in local, regional, national and international publications. Between 2008 and 2011 he worked freelance for Greenwich Time Newspaper, a local newspaper in London. As part of this he did everything from fitness columns and celebrity interviews through to concert reviews and news reports. Between October 2012 and December 2013 Dean edited the Network Autism ‘Autism in Practice’ newsletter which was sent to subscribers in over 90 countries. He has also written for The Guardian, Londonpaper and NAS Communication magazine.
Between 2012 and 2014 Dean sat on the judging panel for the NAS Professionals Awards. An interview with Deanis featured as a key resource in the Autism Education Trust training programme which has just celebrated training 100,000 schools staff.
Dean is also a singer and in 2017 he will be performing at charity balls across the country.
Dean is honorary president of ‘Autism Puzzles’– a parent led charity in Cardiff, Wales.
Caption: Rhys Jenkins, 25, an Autism Ambassador of Wales, was the first one to sign up to fund-raise for the festival.
“I hope to see loads of people come to the Festival. I hope they are from a variety of backgrounds, including students and professionals. I hope people can see what Autism can mean for them and understand what Autism is.” Rhys says.
At 16-years-old, Rhys was diagnosed as Autistic. Up until now, he has been helping Autistic individuals for over a year.
“I feel like it’s my life’s calling,” Rhys says.
“I enjoy being an ambassador and my goal is to make this world a better place. I like giving talks and being watched,” Rhys smiles broadly.
Speaking of his experience of Autism, Rhys says: “It is everything for me. The Autism provides me an opportunity to learn about the world, and I can make the world more aware the Autism”.
When asked what he wants people to know about Autism, Rhys says “Puzzle. The world is full of puzzles, but there is great achievement to be gained in solving that puzzle,” he says.
Rhys has begun to raise money through Local Giving for one of the groups that the Festival identified, the Chinese Autism Support Group.
Rhys plans to give three different speeches in Swansea, Cardiff, and potentially Neath, to raise fund for the Festival. His mother may also join him to give a talk in April about Personal Independence Payment.