Autism And Research

Last week I took part in the Divergent Sounds project from King’s College London (funded by the Wellcome Trust) that is looking to understand better the different types of neurodivergent identity and experience. The information gathered will be used by a composer to create a new composition (right up my street as an ex cellist) inspired by the the themes of the forum discussions. The piece will be performed at the Southbank Centre in London.

I feel it important, as neurodivergent person, to put myself forward as a participant for appropriate research projects because it’s important that my voice is heard amongst all of the ‘This is what autism is/what it looks like/what we do for autistic people’ voices that are heard when I join discussions about being neurodivergent and in particular autism. For too long neurodivergent people have been talked at rather than talked to and I for one am so glad that this is slowly changing.

I was particularly drawn to this research project because I have a background in music having started my university career training to be a cellist at a music conservatoire in London. Ironically, part of the reason I left after two years was due to me being neurodivergent and not knowing it. The sounds of London along with the busyness, the people, the chaos of the underground (all with a cello on my shoulder) were just too much for me to process and the two years I spent there were two of the most unhappiest I’ve experienced (I write about this here). I love music and it’s still a huge part of my life but my experiences are now dancing around my kitchen to songs that make me feel energised, shout singing in the car to songs that I know all the words and so can anticipate every offbeat, every quirky sound and dare I say it – key change. Music makes me feel the most I ever feel (apart from the love for my family) and it’s a go-to when I need time to process whatever is going on in my life.

I also love to teach music. I was once told that ‘Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach’ and I have written before about how those who can do do so brilliantly and should keep doing it but that they can’t always teach because that’s a skill and an art in itself that not everyone has. I like to think I have a talent for teaching (I’ve been told I do often over the years) and this suits my brain better than trying to network as a cellist. No, that was never going to work with my social difficulties.

Music reaches so many people in different ways. I like to dance, shout sing and teach music but others may just want to calmly listen while they are out on a walk. Music makes us talk and brings us together all while helping us to connect with our emotions, even if that is to say, ‘I don’t like this…’

I am intrigued as to how the composer will interpret what was said in our group response to the questions asked. I loved hearing other people’s thoughts and opinions and we found so many commonalities -difficulties with train journey’s was one definite common thread running through our responses plus also a huge desire for the education system to change to support neurodivergent people more and genuinely so.

I look forward to next year to the composition premier invite arriving in my inbox. I’ll take my husband and probably my children and, maybe, even take a group of pupils from school, who knows. I want my children to know that the way their brains work is marvellous and fabulous and needed (we really can’t all be the same) and so thought about that that evening was created specifically to help other people learn about them.

It’s important for neurodivergent people to take part in research (that’s appropriate and that they feel comfortable in doing) where possible. I am hoping to be a participant again in another project soon.

(Photo is a stick photo, not of the research group)

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