I recently had the pleasure of talking with Grace Centre For Autism, here is an excerpt of my interview below:
What is the motivation behind your work?
Society is changing. More than ever before, people see benefits in diversity, and most importantly they are beginning to see the benefits to inclusion. But we are still in a transition phase. If we work together, we can understand the delicate dynamics of power and privilege. Inclusive cultural transf
ormation is possible. We all need to hold ourselves to account, open ourselves up to engaging with people who do not necessarily resemble our own thinking and outlook, who do not look like us, talk like us, or share similar beliefs and values. It is a challenging road ahead. We all have a part to play. But in the end, we realise that we can all embrace difference. We need to be mindful to cultivate inclusive cultures that benefit everyone and empower everyone to thrive, as their most authentic selves.
You mentioned your own disabilities before. Could you tell us about how you became interested in the work on inclusion?
Curiosity, logic, and interesting conversation drew me towards philosophy early on, it only seemed fitting to pursue this pathway, as I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in life. Philosophy helped me build a good foundational skillset for whatever was next. It was halfway through my second year, when I truly realised life with a disability was going to be challenging. I had struggled with my mental health before but realising the life-long road of mixed challenges ahead enhanced the strain. Over the years, I have come to terms with my own mental health journey. In frequent bouts of self-
doubt and high stress – anxiety hits, and depression comes along with it. It’s quite a predictable cycle. But the good news, I know it will pass, it will come back round - but that’s ok. I’ve accepted this as part of my life. A wise person once said, ‘it’s not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain’.
You and Kana got connected through the common passion on autism. What is your connection to autism and neurodiversity?
I had always had a fascination for neuroscience so not knowing what to do at this point in my life, I was lucky to be able to pursue that interest and went on to study cognitive neuroscience and neuropsychology a
s a postgraduate masters degree. During my time studying, I expressed particular interest in emotional intelligence. My thesis and bulk of my research explored the prevalence alexithymia - a trait linked to emotion recognition, processing, and regulation - specifically in those with Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASC). As these processes are different, they require different areas of support. My proposal for further research was to design devices to effectively support those with emotional processing difficulties. Unfortunately, I didn’t pursue this research but I’m happy to learn that research into advanced practical solutions designed to lift barriers and support those who experience challenges in emotional identification and processing, enabling everyone to fully participation and thrive, as their most authentic selves. and s by people who are neurodiversity.
What do you think you and other so-called "disabled" researchers can bring to research?
Unfortunately, it is often the case that as disabled people we need a post-graduate degree or a PhD to become recognised as a credible voice in the research community. Expanding and diversifying persp
ectives within the research community is critical to revealing previously uncovered areas and approaches, especially crucial in the field of neurodiversity research. For example, we need to diversify and mindfully adapt research methods, especially when looking into the topic of loneliness in autism. We need researchers who are able flip turn and realign research focuses. A common assumption is, avoidance of social situations indicates a dislike or disinterest in socialising, but this fails to query and breakdown the underlying construct.
We need to openly question the experience of such discomfort or overwhelm around the typical myriad of social conventions. It unfair to assume we process things in the same way, and somehow expected to manage social and emotional interactions and internal understanding. Discomfort or overwhelm arising from social interactions is not fully understood enough. If we don’t question this carefully and in the scrutinise our approach, we limit, and skew data collected as a result. To truly understand, we need to stop assuming and ask the open questions to enable our traditional social conventions, constructs, and barriers to dissolve and reflect on what we discover to generate new ones that are flexible and enable all of us to feel comfortable to be around people and make friends in a way that works for everyone.