CRAE Newsletter Issue 8

Page 1

issue 8

spring/summer 2015

Our exclusive film screening, trips to Australia and our 5th birthday party... Read more inside.

editor: liz pellicano

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X+Y: A free CRAE film screening On Tuesday 3rd March we, together with Ambitious about Autism, hosted a preview screening of the film X+Y and a Q&A with its BAFTA winning director, Morgan Matthews. The event was a huge success: it was completely sold out and we had more than 250 people through the doors on the night. X+Y follows Nathan, an autistic boy with a passion for maths, from childhood through to his training to represent Great Britain in the International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO) in his teenage years. Nathan, who finds it difficult to connect to others around him, feels isolated from

his mother and teachers, but finds solace in the logical world of mathematics. With help from his tutor, Mr Humphreys, it becomes clear that he is good enough to represent his country. The training, which will determine if he will represent his country, takes Nathan to Taiwan, where he meets and connects with his Chinese competitor, Zhang Mei. After the film, director Morgan Matthews, gave us some insight into how he came to make the film, which was inspired by his acclaimed 2007 BBC documentary, Beautiful Young Minds. Matthews spoke of the responsibility he felt to be true to the young people he met during the making of this documentary. He talked about how Daniel, on whom the character Nathan was based, strongly identified with the character, and felt as if he was speaking Daniel’s own words. Many audience members, including autistic people, spoke of how impressed they were by the portrayal of Nathan as a young autistic person. One person

said that it was “the best depiction of autism full stop”. Another, however, was concerned that Nathan was portrayed as a non-autistic child locked inside an autistic one. Matthews addressed this concern by drawing on the conversations he had with Daniel, who had explained that he had always felt strong emotions inside but only learned how to express them later in life. Overall, the film is a must-see. It highlights the potential strengths and challenges associated with autism and the challenges of raising an autistic child – all beautifully portrayed by a starstudded British cast.

CRAE Work Experience At CRAE, we offer young autistic people the chance to experience working life as part of our team... In January this year, we hosted Emma, a secondary-school student on the autism spectrum for her work experience placement. Here is what she had to say about her 1-week placement: “During my time at CRAE I had the opportunity to try many new and interesting activities and better understand the work carried out at a research centre. Amongst other things, I got the chance to transcribe interviews, analyse research papers, look through some very old archive files, observe and take part in an activity for a research project, and even attend a CRAE meeting! I mostly worked in an office (an environment I wasn’t used to, but found I really liked) but also spent two days at the library, which was a completely different

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and equally fascinating experience. The people I worked with were very helpful and friendly. They made sure I felt comfortable in my work environment, so that despite my being nervous, I could not have asked for a more enjoyable work experience placement.” We loved having Emma working with us, too! If you know someone who might like to have their school work experience placement with us, please email us at

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Autism downunder CRAE’s Research and Communication Officer, Lorcan Kenny, started 2015 by travelling to the University of Western Australia in Perth to work on an exciting research project looking at young people’s transition to adulthood. While in Perth, Lorcan followed up some of the families who were involved in Dr Liz Pellicano’s research over 12 years ago. As part of the visit, he found out how they have been getting on at school, at home and in some cases, in their lives after school. Lorcan said that hearing about these young people’s experiences, from the things that have gone well (and not-so-well) for them over the years was a “great privilege”, and has already been back in touch since landing back in the UK. Growing up and leaving school is a difficult time for any young person but can be particularly challenging for those on the autism spectrum. This research will help us better understand more about these young people’s life chances and opportunities, as well as the factors that hinder or help the transition to adulthood. We look forward to sharing the results of this study soon!

UCL-IOE merger December was an exciting month for CRAE as our host institution, the Institute of Education (IOE), merged with University College London (UCL) to create London’s largest university. Here at CRAE, we are looking forward to working with our UCL colleagues and capitalising on these opportunities in the very near future!

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My Life at School Children should have their say, whoever they are, whatever their needs. But for many children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities – including autism – decisions may more often than not be made for them, not with or by them. In a project funded by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, we sought to understand the realities of the lives and experiences of young people with SEN and disabilities – the good and the bad – of growing up in school. We engaged with more than 80 children and young people, over 100 teaching and care staff, and more than 30 parents in 17 different residential special schools across England.

Overall, although many missed their families, the children were happy in their current schools, felt part of Having the community your say engendered by the schools and felt looked after and treated well. This is important to recognise. Many of the schools also appeared to be doing an impressive job of eliciting children’s views. But we also found areas in which young people’s views either were not elicited or were not listened to. The first area related to entry to residential schools. One young woman with autism told us that she had “none, no choice at all. They just said, go to this school, so I got in a taxi one morning and they brought me to school … I was scared.” Many parents noted that there was too much bureaucratic ‘red tape’ involved in getting their child into the school that they felt best fit his/her needs – which often meant that young people were simply unable to have a voice.

that failures of the system, particularly delays in decision making by local authorities, were preventing successful transitions to adult services. One staff member explained, “So we’ve got a guy and he’s going to be leaving in the next week and the placement has just broken down. It was identified before Christmas but wasn’t agreed and it still wasn’t agreed by the local authority after 7 months. And now it’s not happening.” For this young man and for others in our study, having a say in their future lives – even as adults – appeared inconsequential. It is our duty to promote these young people’s right to have a say in their education and in other decisions that affect them. The results of our study show that it is possible. We now need to listen. You can read more about our My Life at School project here:

The second area related to exit from these schools. Staff repeatedly noted

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CRAE turned 5! Last year saw the 5th anniversary of the opening of CRAE. In December, we held a party to celebrate 5 years of CRAE and to thank those who initially made CRAE possible, including especially our funders, The Clothworkers’ Foundation, Pears Foundation and Kirby Laing Foundation. We are also incredibly grateful to all those who continue to make CRAE possible, including the wonderful staff and students on our team and the amazing support of the autism community (i.e., YOU!). We have made a great start in our first 5 years. But there is still so much to do to enhance the lives of autistic people and their families. We very much look forward to working with you all in these efforts in the years ahead.

Autism module Are you keen to learn more about the science and practice of autism? Then we have just the course for you! CRAE has just launched a new post-graduate module in Autism: Research and Practice. It is designed for anyone who wants to learn about the most up-to-date autism research and apply scientific knowledge to everyday practice and thinking about autism. The module consists of 10 weeks of face-toface sessions (April – June) and a schoolbased practical session in conjunction with Queensmill School. For more information, drop us an email at

We need you! Here at CRAE, our research totally depends on the wonderful participants who take part in our studies. We are currently looking for people of all ages, with and without autism, to help us out!

CRAE news Hellos and goodbyes Last November we welcomed Abigail Croydon to our team at CRAE who is working on the Medical Research Council (MRC) funded study, Seeing the World Differently. She has previously been involved in other research at CRAE, evaluating a tool to assess children’s skills in face recognition, the Cambridge Face Memory Test for Children, and in looking at SEN children’s experience of being schooled away from home. We are also very excited to tell you that Robyn Steward will be joining CRAE in May 2015 as a Visiting Research Associate. Robyn is a renowned autistic advocate and author and will be working both on making research accessible to young people and adults as well as helping to give young people the skills to advocate for themselves. Robyn is also keen to look at the perspectives of people on the autism spectrum about research topics that are important to them and how these perspectives can be heard by the scientific community. Sadly we said goodbye to Dr Jake Fairnie who was working on a project with Dr Anna Remington examining whether autistic people have increased auditory capacity. Jake’s contributions to CRAE went far beyond his work on this project. He contributed hugely to our public engagement activities and enthusiastically supported other projects at the Centre.

We are continuing to work with Jake on some public engagement projects (which includes some short films!) - more on that soon! Congratulations! Congratulations to Cathy and Eilidh who are now Dr Manning and Dr Cage after successfully passing their PhD vivas just before Christmas last year! Cathy has taken up a Research Fellowship at the University of Oxford and Eilidh is a researcher with the national disability charity, Scope. Congratulations to CRAE’s Director, Liz, and her husband Marc, who are expecting their first baby in May! Conferences It has been a busy year already for the CRAE team as Themis and Anna travelled to Amsterdam to present work at the International Convention of Psychological Science and Lorcan flew to Philadelphia to speak at the Society for Research in Child Development’s (SRCD) Biennial meeting. On top of all of this, many of the CRAE team will be travelling to the International Meeting of Autism Research (IMFAR) in Salt Lake City, USA – both to share the work we have been doing at CRAE with autism researchers from around the globe and to hear about the latest development in international autism research. We’ll keep you posted!

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 “enhance the lives of autistic people and their families” by improving the research evidence for effective interventions,

If you, or anyone you know, might like to be involved please give us a shout (, 020 7331 5126) and we’ll tell you about the studies. Thanks! crae news

education and outcomes for those on the autism spectrum.


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