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Thursday, 02 November 2017

Sheffield's social science festival to put spotlight on autism

Written by The Editorial Team

The public's perception of autism will be one of the major themes explored next week as the Festival of Social Science returns to Sheffield.

The free festival, which is funded by the Economic & Social Research Council, is a week-long series of events (4 November - 11 November) taking place across the country which offers the public a fascinating insight into some of the country's leading social science research and a unique opportunity to engage with experts behind it.

One of the first events of Sheffield's festival - Our Autism Soapbox, is a free two-hour event putting the autistic voice front and centre in the words of those with autism.

Led by Sheffield Hallam's Dr Stephen Connolly, the event will see presenters and performers each have five minutes to express their thoughts on any topic around autism that is important to them, some of which include 'A traitor to my diagnosis?' and 'Thoughts of an autistic mother'.

The event will engage and inform the public about the thoughts, feelings and opinions of those with autism, as well as the opportunity to ask questions and chat with the speakers.

The festival will conclude with How is Autism Portrayed in Children's fiction?, led by Dr Shalini Vohra from Sheffield Hallam University. It will explore the instrumental role fiction plays in creating awareness and acceptance amongst children and how the portrayal of autism in children's books shapes how autism is understood and responded to.

The free event aims to deliver a unique discussion about how such fiction impacts on the lives of children and young people who identify as autistic.

Dr Vohra (pictured) said: "What is astounding to me is how limited children's books can be in terms of a fair representation of the society that we live in. From a child's perspective, especially in early years, they are very accepting and it’s at that age when books need to be more inclusive, autism or any kind of disability is something that needs to be talked about.

"Parents often look to books to explain things to their children. If autism isn't talked about or is misrepresented in books this adds to what society will understand autism to be. For an autistic individual this can also mean they are not finding an accurate representation of themselves. My dream is for every child to be able to find him or herself in a book.

"It has been great to work on this project and collaborate with colleagues from Hallam's Autism Centre and witness first-hand the passion and commitment we have as a university towards autism awareness, research and acceptance."

Other events at the Festival led by Sheffield Hallam include:

All of the events at the ESRC Festival of Social Science are free. For more information visit  http://festivalofsocialscience.group.shef.ac.uk/.