Open & Inclusive SIG – Presentations on Autism

50 people attended the Open & Inclusive Special Interest Group meeting on Monday 29th June. A recording of the event is available here.

There were three presentations from the following speakers:

Presentation 1: James Schwanethal, The Open University

Presentation 2: Annabel Nijhof and Danna Oomen, The University of Ghent

Presentation 3: Laura Dean, The Open University


Presentation 1: James Schwanethal, The Open University

Presentation title: ASD and me

Abstract: My diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder came late in life. This is not unusual for people my age who, because we were ‘higher functioning’, would have been previously diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Asperger’s syndrome wasn’t a diagnosable condition until the 1990s. By then, I’d been through my teenage years: bullied at school, socially isolated, lonely, and suicidal. I didn’t understand the world, and the world didn’t understand me. My ASD diagnosis at the age of 42 was a revelation. My story highlights the difficulties I faced, but also shows that there is a way through.

Biography: I’m a space instrument developer at The Open University. My background in Physics and Space Science, with a MPhys in 1998, MSc in 2000 and PhD in 2004. I have over 15 years’ experience in mass spectrometry and am currently working on the LUVMI-X lunar rover. I went on to study degrees in Law with The Open University in 2009 and Psychology with Manchester Metropolitan University in 2017, both by distance learning.

Presentation 2: Annabel Nijhof and Danna Oomen, The University of Ghent

Presentation title: The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on autistic adults

Abstract: Research group EXPLORA (Ghent University) conducted an online study to investigate the effects of the current COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health and daily lives of adults on the autism spectrum. The tremendous impact of the pandemic has affected society as a whole, but this study aimed to better understand how the current pandemic affects autistic adults specifically. We will discuss our most societally relevant preliminary results that highlight the burden of the pandemic on the mental health and daily life of autistic adults. Furthermore, we will present the most frequently reported Covid-19 related worries, stressors, and needs, as well as changes that autistic individuals have experienced as positive.

Biography Danna: Danna Oomen received her MSc in Clinical and Health Psychology in 2018 at Leiden University. Currently, she is in her second year of her PhD at Ghent University, investigating social interaction processing in autistic adults.

Biography Annabel: Annabel Nijhof recently returned to Ghent University, where she obtained her PhD in 2017, after spending two years as a postdoctoral researcher at King’s College London. She investigates social processes related to the self and to others, in autistic adults.

Presentation 3: Laura Dean, The Open University

Presentation title: Autistic Students in Higher Education: What Problems Do They Face? How Can We Help?

Abstract: This presentation draws together the outcomes from a mixed methods research project with autistic higher education students. The project stemmed from data which demonstrated that whilst autistic graduates were more likely to achieve higher academic grades than their peers, they were four times more likely to be unemployed than non-disabled graduates post-graduation. In addition, they are twice as likely to be unemployed as all disabled graduates (AGCAS, 2015). This research explored their experiences of studying and drew out five themes. These were: impacts of historical treatment on current behaviours; symptom related issues; how identity was managed, and disclosure was undertaken; the effects of a ‘hidden’ curriculum and what would be required to develop a more effective support system. This presentation explores these themes and how we might collectively support autistic students.

Biography: Laura Dean is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist, having graduated from the University of Leeds with a BSc Applied Psychology in 2000, University of London with a MSc Occupational Psychology in 2006 and having subsequently been granted Chartered status by the British Psychological Society in 2016. She is a Senior Fellow of Advance HE and studied her Doctorate in Education at the University of Sheffield which was submitted for assessment in December 2019. Having worked in higher education for two decades she has undertaken many roles: Programme Director, Head of Employability, Head of Teaching Excellence and Post Graduate Director of Academic Integrity. Her research interests are around equality and fairness in particular in relation to neurodiversity and social class issues.

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