CRAE Newsletter Issue 11

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issue 11

autumn/winter 2016

editor: melissa bovis

“It feels pretty good to be me right now.� Owen Suskind

Our film screening of Oscar-nominated documentary Life, Animated included the stars of the film. Read more about the event inside...

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CRAE Film Screening

On Tuesday 6th December 2016, together with Dogwoof Ltd, the British Film Institute (BFI) and This Way Up, CRAE hosted an exclusive preview screening of the critically acclaimed and Oscar-nominated documentary feature film, ‘Life Animated’ at UCL Institute of Education. As with previous CRAE screenings, the event attracted more than 300 attendees, and was also generously supported by Propercorn popcorn! Life, Animated is an emotional, coming-ofage film documentary based on a book by Pulitzer Prize winning writer, and father, Ron Suskind. It tells the remarkable story

of how Owen Suskind, a young autistic boy, uses Disney animation as a pathway to language and in understanding his feelings to communicate with the world as he grows into an adult. CRAE organised a live panel discussion after the screening and were lucky enough to be joined by the film’s Academy Award-winning Director, Roger Ross Williams, and its stars - the Suskind family; Ron, Cornelia, Walter and Owen Suskind. The panel was chaired by journalist, Saskia Baron, who also reviewed the film for The Guardian. You can listen to the panel discussion here:

CRAE’s 7th Annual Lecture In November 2016, CRAE hosted their 7th Annual Lecture at UCL, which was given by world-renowned autism researcher, Francesca Happé, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and Director of the MRC Social, Developmental Psychiatry Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London. Professor Happé spoke on ‘Growing Old on the Autism Spectrum’ and her team’s ongoing research into this area. All of us wonder what our lives will be like when we face old age, as do many autistic crae news

people, yet we know almost nothing about the specific needs of autistic adults as they grow older or of the best ways to support them. Professor Happé called for more longitudinal research studies to be carried out in this area and the importance of establishing appropriate quality of life measures in older age by autistic adults themselves, which may not be the same as non-autistic adults. The event was attended by over 150 guests, who were also treated to award-winning, beautiful chocolates from Harry Specters, a social enterprise, employing autistic staff.

In collaboration with the BFI and Dogwoof, a free educational booklet about the film and autism, including personal experiences from autistic people and related articles, was also created for audience members and included a feature – Words Matter – written by CRAE’s Director, Liz Pellicano and illustrated by artist, Ben Connors. You can download the booklet here: CRAE’s PhD student, Ellie Buckley, also reviewed the film for the British Psychological Society’s magazine, ‘The Psychologist’ - you can read her article, ‘Faith, trust and Pixie Dust’ here:

Trainee teacher workshop In September 2016, CRAE and designer, Dr Katie Gaudion, held a successful workshop on understanding sensory differences in autism for 40 trainee teachers, as part of their Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) course at UCL Institute of Education. The workshop aimed to consider how sensory differences might impact autistic pupils’ experience and learning in a classroom environment. During the workshop, students explored their own unique sensory likes and dislikes and decorated umbrellas to reflect their preferences! Read Liz Pellicano’s follow up article in TES magazine:

For those who were unable to attend the event, you can view Professor Happé’s fantastic talk via our website and YouTube channel: @CRAE_IOE

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Green Man Festival Last summer, CRAE developed and hosted its first ever public engagement stall on neurodiversity, entitled ‘Makes Sense’, at Einstein’s Garden, as part of the Green Man Festival, Wales, from 18th - 21st August 2016. CRAE took their research outside of university walls and into a muddy field (!) and were awarded funding from the UCL ‘Step Out’ programme to host a stall over the fourday event in the dedicated science area, Einstein’s Garden. Our Makes Sense stall aimed to convey the complexities of the human brain and demonstrate that everybody’s brain is different. Lead and co-ordinated by CRAE team members, Dr Melissa Bovis, Lorcan Kenny, Robyn Steward and other colleagues from Birkbeck University, Angelina Vernetti, and UCL, Dr Hayley Pye, Dr Laura Funnel and Ivar MacSween, the stall set out to increase fundamental awareness of neurodiversity - the natural diversity of human brains and minds – and understanding of neurodevelopmental conditions, such as autism, by illustrating differences in how we all process sensory information. Festival-goers were invited to learn about their own sensory likes and dislikes (i.e. smell, sound, touch,

taste and sight) through giant, interactive games and creative activities, inspired by research from designer and former CRAE PhD student, Dr Katie Gaudion. The stall attracted over 700 visitors over the festival duration including families, autistic and non-autistic adults, young people and children, who came to build brain cells and expand our neuron network (!). They also found out more about how their own and other people’s brains process information, creating sensory profiles through board games and decorating brain hats! The stall pitched daily questions to festival-goers, to spark discussion and evaluate prior audience knowledge around common misconceptions around autism, e.g. ‘Does the MMR vaccine cause autism?’, which were answered YES/NO via a specially designed ‘brain token’ system. You can see the results to

these questions in our Green Man infographic and check out photos of the stall and our time at the Festival on our website:

Two new reports from CRAE on autistic children’s educational experiences School can be a particularly tough place for children and young people on the autism spectrum. In two new reports, CRAE researchers looked at the educational experiences of these children – finding promising results. The first piece of research, commissioned by Phoenix Special School and Tower Hamlets Local Authority, examined one attempt to combine the best of both specialist and mainstream provision: a ‘satellite class’ model of supported inclusion in which the strengths of a special school education are kept in place for selected autistic pupils as they transfer to dedicated classes within mainstream Contact us:

‘host schools’, all within the London borough of Tower Hamlets. You can read the full report, launched in January 2017, here: The second piece of research, commissioned by the National Autistic Society, sought to understand more about the realities of being excluded from school and the ways in which professionals can work with young people to get them back into school. We worked with a group of young people, their parents and teachers within the Inclusive Learning Hub at the National Autistic Society’s Robert Ogden School. You can read the full report: bit. ly/2mlreVj.

Sam’s work experience placement At CRAE, we offer work experience placements for young autistic people to gain an insight into life as a researcher. These placements have been in collaboration with UCL Institute of Education Library and Archives teams and have been a huge success! In September 2016, we welcomed 17-year old college student, Sam, on placement with us one-day-a-week for an academic term. Read what Sam had to say about his time with us: “Research has always been an area of study I have been curious about, especially since I’ve never been at the development side of things! CRAE taught me a great deal about research techniques (and the amazing planning behind it all) - UCL caters for so many research areas. It has given me an invaluable insight into the thought processes behind research, making me familiar with CRAE’s use of surveys and research data logging, carefully inputted. I helped promote a CRAE film screening and compiled Xmas Card design entries for CRAE’s Annual card design competition to choose a winner! I also participated in their Brain Detectives science workshops. With the Archives team, I digitalised and described Victorian photographs, making them available to researchers. Becky, the archivist, and her team at the library, and Mel and the CRAE team, were very friendly, inviting and patient towards me, which was very motivational and built up my confidence, as I have previously had difficulties in other work experience environments from those that did not understand me as well. I have gained the confidence to explore and apply for other volunteer opportunities within UCL, at the Petri Museum and Grant museum, which would suit me well!” If you, or somebody you know, would be interested in the volunteer scheme we run for secondary school autistic pupils please contact us on crae news


Brain Detectives

In 2016, CRAE held a record FOUR of our everpopular, half-day Brain Detectives science workshops, welcoming hundreds of children, young people and their families to UCL! Brain Detectives is a fun science club held at the UCL Institute of Education open to all children and young people (6-18 years), who are interested in taking part in some real ongoing research and learning about the brain and the mind at the same time. We are planning more in 2017, so if you know anyone who might be interested in coming along to one of our free-to-attend half-day sessions, please feel free to contact us via: E: W: | T: 020 7331 5126

Join the conversation! At CRAE, we use social media to spread the word about our own and others’ autism research and activities and to give the autistic community online spaces where they can make their voices heard. Have your say. Share your stories, images, experiences. And get involved. Interact with us on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube. Search CRAE IOE. CRAE is a partnership between the UCL Institute of Education and Ambitious about Autism, the national charity for children and young people with autism. Its aim is to “help enhance the lives of autistic people and their families” by improving the research evidence for effective interventions, education and outcomes for those on the autism spectrum.

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CRAE news Hellos and goodbyes We have had lots more wonderful people working with us in the last 6 months! Dr Alyssa Alcorn started at CRAE in August 2016 as the new postdoctoral fellow on our DE-ENIGMA project, investigating robots as an educational tool to support autistic children in their learning. Alyssa did her PhD at the University of Edinburgh School of Informatics using computer game elements to initiate communication in autism research. You will have, no doubt, heard lots from her and Zeno the robot on the project through her fabulous online videos! We also welcomed – with open arms! – our two new undergraduate placement students, Eilish Roy and Rebecca Sealy from the Universities of Kent and Bath, respectively. Becca has been helping collect research data for the DE-ENIGMA project, whilst Eilish has been working on CRAE’s Quality of Life study with PhD student, Lorcan Kenny. Both have got stuck into life at CRAE, proving invaluable members of the team and helping out with all CRAE projects and events! New PhD Student, Ellie Buckley, has joined us for her research project on ‘Autism and the performing arts: celebrating creativity and improving outcomes’. Funded by an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) CASE Studentship in partnership with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in Business. Ellie recently completed a Master’s degree in Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL and, prior to this, a dual honours degree in Neuroscience and Psychology at Keele University. We are also delighted to have two new Visiting Research Associates, Jude Ragan (former headteacher of Queensmill School) and Dr Virginia Bovell (parent advocate and campaigner and founder of TreeHouse School), @CRAE_IOE

who bring years of invaluable experience to CRAE! Sadly, we had to say goodbye to several wonderful people these past few months. Abigail Croydon has been with us since 2014, having worked tirelessly on the My Life at School, Seeing the World Differently and Satellite Class research projects. The second half of the CRAE DE-ENIGMA team, researcher Dr Teresa Tavassoli, recently left to take up a coveted Lectureship at Reading University. We wish them both all the best in their future endeavours - they are both very sorely missed! More recently, we said goodbye to Irene Molina, a PhD student from Spain (and fantastic artist and musician!), who visited CRAE on a three month placement in September 2016 but will be back in June for more events! Also, Janina Brede, who first came to us as an undergraduate placement student and recently finished her study with the NAS Robert Ogden School. We are hugely grateful for all their hard work! And finally, thank you and good bye to all our wonderful placement students who have helped on CRAE projects throughout the past year including, Masters student, Antonella Pome from University of Florence, UCL biomedical undergraduate student, Thavin Juvanendran, and summer student, Sarah Crockford, who is now doing a Masters at CRAE! Congratulations! Congratulations to Lorcan Kenny, who passed his Upgrade exam and is officially a fullfledged PhD student and Dr Louise Neil, who was awarded her PhD. CRAE would also like to say a huge congratulations to CRAE’s Senior Lecturer, Dr Anna Remington, who very recently got married! Conferences In July, Liz Pellicano gave a keynote talk at 12th Paediatric Bioethics Conference, Seattle, USA and Anna Remington gave two talks at the International Congress of Psychology, Japan. In September, all members of the CRAE team travelled to Edinburgh to present at the 11th Autism-Europe International Congress, and Liz gave a keynote talk to a packed auditorium! In November, Liz presented at the XVIII AETAPI Congress León, Spain and Lorcan Kenny, Felicity Sedgewick and Melissa Bovis were lucky enough to travel to Perth, Australia to present at the Australasian Society for Autism Research (ASfAR) just before Christmas - tweeting all the way! Visit us at

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