The interdisciplinary group, autism@manchester are looking to work with the autistic community to improve the effectiveness and impact of their research. Autism is a lifelong developmental condition that affects how the autistic person makes sense of and interacts with other people and the world around them, often causing them, and those affected by them, considerable difficulty, discomfort and anxiety.
autism@manchester involves autism researchers from the University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University and the NHS, as well as autistic individuals and parents of autistic children. The group are concerned that the research they do should be relevant and of real advantage to those who live with the condition. At the same time, many of those affected by autism feel disconnected from the very research that is supposed to be helping them, and voice concerns that researchers are not working on issues that are important to them.
This is why researchers from autism@manchester are very keen to involve those who live with autism in the research process and were awarded Welcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Funding to hold a series of three interactive workshops with members of the autistic community during November 2015. The project was run in partnership with Salfordautism, a local support group who work in the community to support autistic people and those around them. During the workshops, the autism@manchester team met with those who live with autism to discuss how best to work with the autism community in developing, choosing and designing research projects that would have real meaning for autistic people.
Emma Gowen, one the lead academics on the project, concludes:
“This was a highly challenging and exciting project to work on. One challenge was that the researchers involved were from a wide range of research disciplines – so we had to address communication barriers between the researchers as well as between researchers and the autism community. In the end, it all worked brilliantly! Everyone involved was very open and generous with their time and we learnt a lot from each other. It was a very enjoyable and encouraging interaction. However, this is only the beginning – we need to use the findings to develop some longer lasting initiatives”
Findings are currently being analysed and written up and will appear here when finished (http://www.autism.manchester.ac.uk/projectsandfindings/welcometrustworkshops/)