OK to be different - autism’s message

This Is Wiltshire: Exhibition of work by DASH and the Swindon branch of National Autism Society. Pictured Laura Morris and Chloe Grubb Exhibition of work by DASH and the Swindon branch of National Autism Society. Pictured Laura Morris and Chloe Grubb

UNIQUENESS and creativity in all its forms were celebrated across Swindon during World Autism Awareness Day.

The campaign this year cast the spotlight on the talent and artistic flair demonstrated by people diagnosed with autism in a bid to dispel prejudices and the persisting myths about the condition.

The international day of action centred on a simple message of acceptance and understanding: ‘It is ok to be different.”

As part of the awareness campaign, charity Discovering Autism Spectrum Happiness (DASH) invited five artists, photographers and sculptors with Asperger Syndrome to showcase their work at West Swindon Library. The exhibition will close on Saturday, April 12.

Anne Billingham, DASH secretary said the organisation was determined to focus on the positive side of autism and its ability to unlock people’s more creative side.

“We wanted to celebrate the talent of adults with Asperger,” she said. “It’s really to say that it is ok to have Asperger and you are in no way defective. In fact, it might even be useful in art.

“It is ok to be different and we wanted to celebrate that difference. I think events like the Paralympics have changed people’s perception of the condition. But some people still think autism is a mental illness. And we want to try and change people’s stereotypes and perceptions.”

People with Asperger, a form of autism, are often above average intelligence but their difficulties lie in interpreting the world around them, especially social interactions.

Photographer Chloe Grubb, 22, of Purton, was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome at the age of 18 but has made sure not to allow her condition to hold her back.

“Doing photography helps take me away from my anxiety,” said the UWE graduate. “I get quite anxious about daily tasks like how to say things to people without offending them. When you have Asperger you sometimes struggle to read facial expressions, body language or people’s tone of voice.

“But I would not see Asperger as a negative. I was diagnosed when I was 18 and it is a lot better now that I know. It doesn’t stop me and I want to make people understand the condition and that it is possible to follow your dreams with Asperger.”

Young people living in supported accommodation and cared for by charity the White Horse Trust in the town also gathered in East Swindon to show just how fulfilling their lives had become once they had been allowed to not only embrace their difference but use it as a strength.

Karen Wallace, service manager at the charity, said: “I think people still have a lot to learn about autism and to appreciate people with autism as individuals with needs, wishes, preferences and able to make choices.

“Our aim is to celebrate their uniqueness and they need to be valued for it. Autism Awareness Day is about focusing on the positive and recognising people’s strengths and enabling them to develop. It is also about acceptance from the public but also about people with autism themselves accepting that they have autism. It is very important.”

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