Raising awareness about autism, last month, Inspire Foundation organised a full day conference featuring some of the foremost speakers on the subject, as well as persons who are on the spectrum.

The event offered a unique mix of experience and expertise on how connections evolve throughout one’s life journey for autistic persons.

Dr Alistair de Gaetano, Chairperson of Malta’s Autism Advisory Council, spoke about surviving vs thriving, the ‘High Functioning’ Curse and what we should be doing to empower autistic persons to be able to thrive throughout their life’s journey. He also emphasised that the biggest challenge to thriving is for society to change and social barriers to be removed.

Prof Richard Mills, who has a long association with Malta and Inspire Foundation spoke about the importance that teachers, clinicians and parents connect to, and engage with autistic people on what they found to be helpful or unhelpful. He said that the aim was never to try to fix autism, as what was helpful to autistic people was also helpful to anyone else.

David Perkins, founder of AS Mentoring (ASM), provider of specialist support to people with autism and other neurodiverse conditions, spoke about the mission statement of the organisation he leads and how it supports clients to achieve their potential as individuals, through social inclusion and employment.  Perkins explained the support they provide could be categorised into two – Facilitating change for the individual and affecting change in their environment.

Charlene Borg who leads the Family Relations Department at Inspire spoke about the various family dynamics which are typically affected by autism. Talking about the various family systems, she said that a family is ultimately a group of people with whom a person feels a certain sense of belonging and wellbeing – people to whom we return to, to rest, to care about and be cared by. For the second part of her presentation, Charlene was joined by Marvic and Chris O’Dwyer, parents of Ronan and Joseph, both of whom are on the spectrum.

Dr Jacqui Ashton Smith, experienced educationalist and trainer with 40 years of experience in the field of autism, education and leadership spoke about the importance of resilience in supporting social connections and life changes. Underlining the importance of understanding young people, Ashton Smith spoke about issues of education pressures and expectations; Employment opportunities; Social media and Peer pressure; and Mental Health Issues among other subjects.

Dr Wenn Lawson, autistic researcher, lecturer, psychologist, advocate, and poet shared his experiences of almost three decades active in the field of autism. Addressing the conference through a recorded presentation, Dr Lawson spoke about his experience as an autistic person who is also a member of the LGBTIQ+ community.

Dr Gina Gomez de la Cuesta spoke about the Brick-by-Brick TM programme, a learning through play-based concept involving collaborative LEGO® play for children who need extra support with social communication, such as children on the autism spectrum. She was joined by Jon Adams a contemporary Artist and Neurodivergent advocate and researcher who has been actively involved in the development of the Brick-by-Brick programme,

Dr Ruth Moyse, Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Southampton, and a Director & Associate at AT-Autism spoke about the problem of girls with Autism who have a greater tendency to drop off the mainstream educational system. During her presentation which presented findings from a research exercise, and subsequent lessons on inclusion from autistic adolescent girls, she answered questions about language usage which shapes the narrative and perhaps expounds the problem.

The event was held at Mont St Joseph Retreat House in Mosta and was supported by the Preluna Hotel.