Two years ago, the thought struck me. Using a unique and well-established group dialogue tool I’d learned and practiced some seven years earlier, I could try to unite a wide range of autistic and non-autistic people with differing views and experiences.
After much discussion and planning with Prof. Elizabeth Milne (University of Sheffield), around the Bohm Dialogue methodology (named after quantum scientist David Bohm) and its potential for autism, in September ‘17 we convened our first full afternoon Autism Dialoguesession. In attendance were several autistic people, PhD students, James Pelham (Autistica), Liz Friend (Sheffield Autistic Society) and Prof. Matthew Belmonte, (MIT).
We held a national conference last December and on May 17th this year, a group gathered for the 17th dialogue session, around half of whom had been attending for over a year. We generated new desired questions from a check-in and took turns to answer, whilst sticking to the four simple dialogue principles. Over three hours, we carefully explored
- What it means to be authentic.
- Definitions of discussion, debate and dialogue.
- What autistic people want from society.
As usual, no one directly comments on another’s exploration (instead keeping the dialogue itself as the focus), instead, listening is encouraged and plenty of thinking space is provided in between. It was powerful and cathartic, and with lots of laughs too.
When I saw the new research from the University of Edinburgh, proving autistic people have a specific communication style, I was pleased but not at all surprised:
“In essence, what we are demonstrating for the first time is that autistic people’s social behaviour includes effective communication and effective social interaction, in direct contradiction of the diagnostic criteria for autism. We have, for the first time, uncovered empirical evidence that there is a form of social intelligence that is specific to autistic people.”
Milton’s 2012 ‘Double Empathy problem’ was one of the first key papers to highlight the mismatch of communication styles.
This new research shines a brighter light on the wasted countless hours of studies and funds, focussing on the deficit view of autism and autistic communication. For example, a 2016 study showed only 1% of research goes to researching the needs of autistic adults.
So now the empirical evidence is uncovered, what next? How long will we have to wait for cure-oriented public and private health care suits to allow this revelation over their mountains of red tape into a field of action and doing to help people in need right now?
For two years at Autism Dialogue, we have been communicating (often about communicating) in our safe autism community dialogue spaces. The sessions in these temporary communities have been many things, including dynamic, emotional, cathartic, inspiring and for some of us, life-changing and extremely positive.
The point I’m trying to make here, is that dialogue, or more accurately, Professional Dialogue, is particularly suited to autistic people, partly because of aspects such as the spaciousness provided between speaking for processing time, and because PD is a safe, rules based social system built on generosity and care. The four interim findings in the paper cited above are witnessed and experienced in depth at each of our dialogues, and crucially, addressed in situ by our temporary but real community.
A major theme to emerge from our sessions last year, was the differences between autistic and non-autistic communicating styles and insights were enhanced when experimenting with reconstituting these social boundaries; Three sessions were run with autistic and non-autistic people in the same group, three more sessions were then run with autistic people only, and the last session was run with all participants together again. Both psychological and psychosocial dynamics are explored in flexing of these boundaries, which aided (along with the general iteration of experience) the emergence of bonds and familiarity among participants. Hence, a key aim of Autism Dialogue is for autistic people to be able share more freely with others, thereby reducing anxiety and stress and increase wellbeing.
We increasingly hear statements of improved general well-being and ease of communication during daily lives.
Did I mention we are entirely self-funded?
By the way, it is a struggle so please let me know if you want to be a kind partner to help us to the next level.
Small change can be left here.
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