Raising awareness of the reality of autism
I was delighted to welcome Michael Barton to our school as part of his book tour at the end of October. I first heard Michael speak at an event in Belfast where I was taking about our research and work on including young people with complex autism (read more in my article 'Mainstreaming autism: making it work'), and I felt that his account of the reality of living with autism was amazing.
Michael is a 22 year-old Physics graduate who studied at the University of Surrey and is the author of ‘It's Raining Cats and Dogs’ and ‘A Different Kettle of Fish’, both published by Jessica Kingsley. He is an excellent speaker, and his sessions convey the reality of being at the high-functioning end of the autistic spectrum in a very powerful way. Michael’s sessions focus on the positive aspects of being autistic, giving young people and adults a real sense of the ‘can be’. Michael is an accomplished musician, playing jazz piano, bass guitar, French horn, drums and percussion (including spoons – which I am pleased to say we had a rendition of during the sessions!) with a variety of bands. He was the President of the University of Surrey judo club in his final year and is a keen rock climber.
The school visit
Michael’s session after school with parents/carers, staff and ex-students was well-attended and extremely well-received. As Michael was with us for the afternoon we arranged two sessions: the first during a lesson for some young people with autism and then after school for parents, carers, staff and ex-students. As Michael arrived in good time, a discussions session with my staff team over lunch was also a welcome additional part of the day! Michael’s sessions focused on the ‘reality of autism’ – what it meant to him and how it didn’t hold him back. Michael is a very talented young man who has a skilled way of explaining the challenges he faces. Most importantly, they don’t stop him from leading a purposeful and fulfilled life. As a positive role model and an ambassador for the ‘can-do’ attitude, Michael was inspirational. One of our Year 8 students had a copy of Michael’s first book, ‘It’s Raining Cats and Dogs’, and was keen to get it signed – he duly did!
I am always keen to have visiting speakers and positive role models come into school and support our work in preparing young people for life – indeed, our school motto is ‘educating for life’. Last year Robyn Steward came to our school and talked about her experiences. Although different, her book – The Independent Woman's Handbook for Super Safe Living on the Autistic Spectrum – covers more ‘hard-hitting’ topics for life; it’s always important to get the contrast of different perspectives. Understanding autism is an important part of being an inclusive school; training sessions are great and make a big difference, but hearing from someone who has first-hand experience is even more meaningful.
- Dos and don'ts when supporting pupils with autism in mainstream schools (Optimus Education)
- Inclusive learning: art, communication and a student with autism (Optimus Education)