On April 2, UVic will host the third annual Autism’s Own Conference, celebrating World Autism Awareness Month as well a UVic peer-reviewed journal. The conference was organized and put on by persons on the autism spectrum at UVic and in coordination with Authors with Autism.
Patrick Dwyer, the chairperson for the Society for Students with a Disability (SSD), said one of the main goals of the conference is to celebrate the autism community and culture. “To validate it and recognize it,” he said. “And [to] celebrate in it because it is a great accomplishment.”
The conference was started in 2013 with over 200 attendees. Last year, the conference became a discussion panel of people already within the community, but this year, Dwyer says they are once again opening up to the public. “We think it’s important to make it very accessible to everyone and to have it free and open,” he said.
The conference works in coordination with both Authors with Autism and CARTE, the Centre for Autism Research, Technology, and Education which is directed by James Tanaka of the UVic psychology department. Dwyer calls both CARTE and Authors with Autism a model for social responsibility as both work towards his goal of making UVic a destination campus for students with disabilities. This goals “requires that everyone have some awareness of these issues and to be supportive of individuals as well as within institutions and organizations,” said Dwyer.
Authors with Autism is a UVic club and peer support group for individuals on the spectrum. It started four years ago by Joseph Sheppard but is now facilitated by Dwyer. Every month, UVic students and life-long learners on the spectrum will gather for peer-support, share and write sessions, and discussion. The group also publishes the peer-reviewed journal each year, Autism’s Own. Dwyer says the group has become so successful that the SSD has now started other peer-support groups on campus modelled after Authors with Autism.
As well as a form of celebration and community outreach, Dwyer also explains that the conference serves to break several myths surrounding autism and disabilities. “There’s a widely held assumption that people with autism are broken,” said Dwyer. “That people who are different are broken and should be fixed.”
“It is really a spectrum. Each person on the spectrum has a very unique perspective and understanding…At the same time, you also have a common experience as well. That’s the idea of an autism culture as a distinct community,” said Dwyer. “Each person on the spectrum is hugely unique. It’s incredibly diverse. If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism,” he said, quoting Stephan Shore.
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