I have attended my first Autism Show in Manchester yesterday. I have been looking forward to this event because of the quality of the speakers and also because it presented a chance for me to meet fellow professionals, parents and individuals with Autism. While I have enjoyed learning about the current research findings (courtesy of talks delivered by Prof. Neil Humphrey and the folks from Research Autism) and have met lovely people including Kevin Healey- a leading campaigner for Autism Anti-Bullying, the event left me with a sour taste in my mouth. I did not enjoy the whole experience.
I found the layout of the venue (EventCity, Manchester) too confusing. The exhibition booths are laid-out like a university open-day convention, where people came and went in every direction. The sound levels were too high as exhibitors and speakers competed with each other for the visitors’ attention. There was no place for visitors to relax quietly, apart from the toilets.
Understandably, parents of children with Autims were extremely annoyed. Those who I have spoken too have commented that the place was ‘not Autism-friendly at all’. These parents have the right to complain, considering that the even was about Autism. One would hope that the organisers would have made more effort to consider individuals with Autism, particularly those with sensory sensitivities.
The Autism Theatre, Hubs 1 & 2, where various talks have taken place were not closed off. This meant that the noise coming from the rest of the venue can be heard and that the speakers have to speak louder in order to compete with the background noise. As a result, most of the audience found it very difficult to maintain their focus on the speakers.
Kevin Healey, one of the key speakers who also has Asperger’s Syndrome, have told me that he struggled to block out the noise coming from outside the Autism Theatre whilst he was speaking. However, despite the incredible challenge of blocking out these stimuli, Kevin delivered one of the most inspiring talks that I have ever listened to.
Despite the great wealth of information, I left the venue two and a half hours early with a headache. I do not have a diagnosis of Autism or any sensory difficulties, but I still found the event very strenuous. I can only sympathise for those with Autism. Needless to say, if the organisers do not make the necessary adjustments next year, I would not be coming.