Last Friday was the launch of a collaborative magazine that discusses a topic widely publicised but little understood: Autism. The Aut of Communication is a collection of perspective on what autism is, and how it can influence lives on many different levels.
For me, the idea of attending the launch felt somewhat strange. Growing up with a severely autistic brother, autism is not an alien concept- on the contrary it is something that for 19 years has shaped my day to day life- nor is it a topic which I have little opinion on- once you get me started I’m far more opinionated than I think! What felt strange, however, is listing to other people discuss the emotions, issues and reality of autism in their lives.
Autism is something that I never really speak about with other people, despite how prominent it is in my life. It’s not a taboo subject and not a boring topic of conversation, rather the often distorted presentation of autism in popular culture, of genius child piano playing prodigies or extremely violent, uncontrollable children, makes it difficult to discuss. Often people jump to conclusions, homogenising the highly complex autistic spectrum into one single disability profile and then worst of all, they look at me with sympathetic eyes and feel sorry for my situation. Without wanting to let on, they use my most hated identifier- ‘young carer’- to summarize my position.
With the way autism is so often presented though, it’s hard to blame people for the way they react when the topic arises. For them there is no reason to understand that I’d much rather be my brother’s sister that his carer. This is why The Aut of Communication is such necessary publication. Composed by Sophie Baggott, a student at Corpus Christi, the work complies many highly varied perspectives on autism.
From contributions of poems describing the emotions linked to autism to interviews with the research director of Autistica, Dr Steven Wallace, book reviews to personal stories the publication seeks to emphasis Autisms diversity and range. The launch took place in Corpus Christi and began with a poetry reading by Sophie Baggott. The poem, dedicated to her brother, swept through the highs and lows of her experiences growing up and perfectly touched on both the difficulties and great rewards that comes from being a sibling in a family with an autistic child.
Then Danny, her brother, spoke, reminding people with his measure words to accept autism and that he in many ways is just like us. Chris Pike, OUSU VP for Welfare and Equal Opportunities also read a poem about his experiences with autism, focusing on the stereotypes that are so often connected. He commented afterwards that “The launch was one of my favourite events that I’ve attended in Oxford. Not only did I get to communicate my experience of autism to those in attendance, including some friends who I’d known for ages who got to learn something new about me; I also learned a huge amount from others about the diverse experiences of autistic people. I really hope all students get to learn some of the things we heard at the launch by picking up a copy of the zine in their common room or at OUSU. It’s a fantastic and fascinating publication.”
Finally there was a presentation from Paul Issac of Autism Oxford, a company focusing on increasing awareness of the disability. While perhaps somewhat outdated in the science behind what causes Autism (a highly controversial subject to say the least) the presentation was insightful into the life of someone with difficulties understanding visual and verbal stimuli and reminded us of how easy it is to take for granted our skill at processing social situations. Speaking about the success of her publication, Sophie Baggott said “Since May, The Aut of Communication has not only been an enlightening project for me but also an incredibly emotional one. Seeing so many people gathered to celebrate the launch last night took that to another level – I’m so thankful to everyone who came, and I hope that the perspectives given in the publication help to further understanding of autism among students.”The magazine is now available both in print and online at theautofcommunication.tumblr.com.