Being autistic in a museum (again)

Today, 2nd April, is World Autism Awareness Day. I have written here before about being autistic and about how I live with it. (That makes it sound as if we’re lodgers or something, which I suppose we probably are. It’s more like The Lady in the Van, the Alan Bennett play that was recently turned into a film, where said lady camps in his garden and never goes away. She brings a unique blend of eccentricity to proceedings as well as just being there and never going away.) Rather than doing an advocacy type post, which other people do a lot better than I could accomplish, I would like to just blether a bit.

I wrote a post in December called ‘Being autistic in a museum‘, which talked a little about my experiences as a museum visitor. Here’s a story about working in a museum. I don’t share stories from work normally but I think a long enough time has passed. I was working at Prestongrange when we had a workshop for children with additional support needs. We had to go to disability awareness training and everything, which was a hoot and a half. At this training I was treated like some sort of oracle due to the personal insight I could offer, which says more about the other participants, really. Unfortunately, we only had one child at the workshop in the end. He was a young boy with autism. Rather hilariously, the young boy’s special interest was lights and light switches, while the theme of the workshop was the Romans, who invented many things but not light switches. We made a shield and some Roman things though when it came to my bit of the workshop, I took the boy behind the museum counter to show him the museum’s light switches, which were on a console. I think that made his day as he got to play with the lights and was interested in my explanations of what each one did. Sometimes you just have to roll with stuff.

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Prestongrange. Je t’aime.

I am very content with working in libraries though with a lot of the more autism-friendly moves museums are taking, I sort of wish I still had some involvement in that world. A lot of these things tend to be based around special events though it would be a lot better if there were adjustments day-to-day. I was speaking to a colleague about Disability Access Day, which took place a couple of weeks ago. She said that doing something special for the day could be seen as condescending as disabled people should be able to access places each and every day in life. I tend to agree with that. We should spend every day being more aware of other people, not just on a specific labelled day.

I would like to share another story. After I moved to Glasgow, I worked for a while in museums again, though with a split role that was part front-of-house and part behind-the-scenes. Being front-of-house was what I knew best and it was where I was most comfortable. I often sat at Clydebank in the Garden Gallery, which was where the shop was. I often got speaking to visitors looking at the art exhibitions in there. I got speaking one day to a woman about the landscapes we had on display. The next time I met her, she had her teenage son with her, who was on the more severe end of the autistic spectrum. I got speaking to them and ended up giving them a tour of the building, which the laddie particularly enjoyed. I didn’t do much different than normal but just responded to what my audience wanted or was interested in, which is what customer service is supposed to be about anyway.

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Garden Gallery

I occasionally get to talk about autism now. I am fairly open with those around me about it. Sometimes I get people asking for books about autism in the library, perhaps because they have autistic children, and nothing gives me greater pleasure than recommending books and raising awareness that way. I am lucky enough to do a job where my love of information gets to come out and when it is combined with talking about a part of myself, it becomes more special, even if the person I am talking with is not aware of it. They are getting a service they’ve asked for, I am doing my job and everyone goes away just a bit better off, a little more aware. And that’s what it’s all about.

 

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