Over the last few weeks on the One to One programme on BBC Radio 4 John Harris, a journalist on The Guardian, has been talking about autism. His son is autistic, in these two programmes he talks with an expert on autism (Professor Simon Baron-Cohen) and an adult who was diagnosed as autistic in her thirties (Penny Andrews).
In the first programme John Harris talks with Professor Simon Baron-Cohen. In this conversation the development of understanding about what autism is is discussed. Its interesting that he talks about discovering people with autism who could talk about the experience, something that at the time was new as it was assumed that people with autism would not be able to function in day to day life.
In the conversation John Harris discusses how difficult it is for him to conceive of how his son understands the world. Simon Baron-Cohen suggests that we do inhabit the same world in some respects and that we do have things in common. He uses the example of structure, repetition and routine where he comments that many people with autism need but so so many other people, something John Harris agrees with.
Simon Baron-Cohen discusses the concept of neuro diversity – there are different types of brains in the population rather than a single ‘normal’ brain, similar to the concept of biodiversity, that we encounter in the classroom. He talks about how some of the traits or qualities of autism can be seen as areas of strength – remarkable attention to detail, fascination with patterns and an ability to persist and go deeply in one topic.
This is an interesting conversation – John Harris picks up on some of the points made by Simon Baron-Cohen and that he has notices in his own experience with his son. He is keen to have her perspective as his son is to young to be able to articulate and explain his feelings and needs.
Towards the end of the conversation they talk about how Penny’s employer is able to adjust and support her so that she can work effectively.
It is also interesting how Penny explores the connections between herself and people who are not autistic and people who are considered to be severely autistic.
For many of you who work with children on the autistic spectrum both these programmes are of interest, giving you some background and perspective on autism historically, theoretically and personally. From a student point of view it is interesting for you to notice how John Harris compares the research of Simon Baron-Cohen with experience of Penny Andrews – we often ask you to make these connections between research and practice in your academic work.
Both programmes are available on iplayer here They were broadcast on 17th and 24th February 2015 and can be found in the episodes list. They are also saved in Box of Broadcasts if you are a university student.
If you listen to these programmes and have any comments please add them below.