This was our second year attending the Autism Show; an event that is held in both Manchester and London. Like most shows there are a variety of speakers: some people with autism, some professionals, and some parents. There are lots of different stalls ranging from people selling their books to people advertising care for adults with autism. We only attended on the last half of Saturday – partly because the two main speakers we wanted to see were on at that time, and partly because neither I nor my Mum felt able to go for the full day. This seemed to be a fairly common theme among several people we spoke to at the show.
We met up with both the speakers who we had planned to go and see – Phil Evans and John Williams, who we`d been in touch with on Twitter? Unfortunately, due to a scheduling rearrangement, we missed most of John Williams talk. But we found them both to be very friendly and welcoming, as were several of the stall owners who allowed us to leave our ASK-PERGERS? leaflets and business cards with them.
There were negatives though; as soon as we went in I could see that some people were starting to have sensory overloads. Even though I myself felt ok, I could see that the atmosphere was clearly too much for some. Now obviously conventions and shows are going to be busy and noisy, and there’s not really a great deal anyone can do about that, but there are a couple of things that I feel could have been done slightly differently: one thing – which may seem like a slightly odd detail to pick up on – would be the bright pink carpet. Again, this didn’t bother me particularly, but I spoke to a few people who were finding it difficult to deal with. It might seem odd, but I think having such a bright colour, added with the noise from all the people, was just too stressful for a lot of the autistic people there. I thought that the main speaking areas were much better than the ones last year as there was more of a gap between them and the crowds, so you could actually hear what people were saying. But the smaller speaking areas which were located in the middle of all the stalls, despite being better than last year, were still not quite right. The speakers would speak in to a microphone, and the audience members would put headphones on. Now this meant that you could actually hear the speaker’s voice, but what it didn’t do was drown out the background noise. So the noise was still a distraction when the speakers were trying to talk. I just think it would make more sense not to have the talks in the middle of the crowds and the stalls, or to construct some sort of framework around them so that the noise is vastly reduced, and also there would not be as many visual distractions for autistic audience members or speakers. Having said that the talk that we did attend by an individual with autism, Phil Evans, was very good despite the strange location. He spoke about autism and employment in a very positive way.
Overall I would say that the show is a good concept, and is reasonably well executed. I don’t think it is the most autism friendly environment in the world, but I think considering it is such a big event with so many people, it does a fairly good job of making it as easy as possible for autistic people to get by. One thing that they had this year, that wasn’t there last time, was a café outside in the lobby area. This was much quieter than the café inside the convention centre itself. They also had a quiet room where the speakers could go and wait, so that they didn’t have to spend any more time in the main hall than was necessary if they were finding it too much. I think that any big event like this is going to have problems, and sometimes, with annual events it can be a hit and miss process over a number of years, with gradual improvement each year, until something becomes as right as possible. It would be useful if there was a quieter place for people with autism to retreat to. There were sensory rooms in the convention centre, but these were for demonstration purposes not relaxation. I think it would be good if there was a room, maybe down a quiet corridor, that people with autism could retreat to. I didn’t explore down the corridors so I can’t say if there was or not, but I didn’t hear any mention of one, or see any signs.
There is still room for improvement, but hopefully next year it will be even better.
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