Leeds Beckett University lecturer who has autism is challenging stereotypes

A Leeds Beckett University senior lecturer who has autism is trying to raise awareness and change the stereotypical view he says many people have of the condition.

Thursday, 1st April 2021, 6:00 am
James McGrath Photo: James Hardisty

English and creative writing lecturer James McGrath, 42, has written a blog about his experiences of living and working with autism as part of World Autism Awareness Week.

James, of Chapeltown, has also written and published a book called 'Naming Adult Autism', which examines how people with autism have been portrayed in literature and dealt with in psychiatry.

"I wanted to challenge certain assumptions which have dominated both media and academic coverage of autism," James wrote in the blog.

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James McGrath Photo:James Hardisty

"A problematic stereotype for autistic people is the assumption that we are only suited to academic work in maths or science.

"We supposedly lack the empathy and imagination to understand the arts and humanities.

"For many autistic people, myself included, art and literature can actually be crucial in helping us to make sense of a confusing world

"Art and literature enable us to express ourselves outside the confines of conventional social communication."

James, who has lectured at Leeds Beckett for 12 years, said working with homeless people when he was in his twenties taught him never to doubt anyone's needs based on their appearance.

James wrote: "Someone might visit the night kitchen wearing a suit - but they may have been made homeless that same day, and that suit could be all they have.

"Someone might even have a car, but has to sleep in that car.

"It was a lesson in compassionate thought, and in sociology too and it’s an outlook I always want to promote when discussing autism.

"For example, an autistic adult might have or be capable of high qualifications, but may struggle with filling in forms to the degree that their opportunities are limited.

"An autistic person might be an attentive listener and strong communicator in a workplace, and yet find after work social events almost impossible.

"And there may be autistic youngsters who struggle with GCSEs and A levels, as I did.

"But they might thrive in a university setting, where it’s possible to go deeply into an academic area you like, without being distracted by other subjects.

"What all this comes down to is that our needs as autistic people, like our abilities, vary greatly from person to person.

"There’s a well-known saying in autistic communities: ‘You’ve met one autistic person, therefore you’ve met one autistic person.’ "

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world.

The National Autistic Society says one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.

World Autism Awareness Week runs from March 29.

The YEP is running a series of stories each day this week as we focus on the lives of people in Leeds with autism.

For more information and to contribute to charity Leeds Autism Services, go to www.las.net.uk

For more details on World Autism Awareness Week, go to www.autism.co.uk