Focussed time and space
"However, my focused use of time and space I would not give away. I know that I am especially placed, For some developed career one day!"
Summing up a PhD thesis is never easy, especially when it has taken 10 years of painfully hard work – where each day you wondered if you could continue.
But Dr Wendy Lawson has managed it more splendidly than most with the last four words of a poem from her personal website.
"That's it exactly," she says. "If you give people with autism time and space, where they can work on what interests them, then they are capable of learning just like anyone else. This might mean, for such an individual with normal or above intelligence for example, the most amazing future is possible; even having wonderful careers, particularly in highly specialised areas like engineering or science. Some of us are very interested in maps or in numbers. Where would you be without your Melways?"
Essentially, Dr Lawson's thesis entitled "Learning Styles: Single Attention & Associated Cognition in Autism (SAACA)" has provided a whole new way of looking at the autism spectrum.
"Rather than focussing on curing autism, we should be working with individuals who are governed by a different cognitive style," she said.
"We are quite capable of learning, we just do it in a different way".
"When we do that, by allowing a child to focus on a single subject of their interest, we can capture their attention and then work with them to build connections that allow them to understand the world".
"What's important is giving AS individuals time and space, rather than just labelling them as difficult or people with a disorder. Actually, I prefer the word 'diff-ability' rather than disorder." I learn, I have a different ability, or diff-ability'.
When Dr Lawson makes that pronouncement she does with a rare mix of academic authority and personal pride.
Her story is one of herself being labeled the difficult child in class when she first went to school, then being diagnosed as schizophrenic, and finally as autistic in 1992.
How she has come to end up with a PhD is an amazing journey of self-discovery and perseverance as well as quality research.
"It was a heartfelt journey," she said. "But I worked hard to make sure it was a genuine research PhD based on the review of the literature."
August 15, 2009 then will always stand out as a shining day in her life, the day she was notified she would be awarded her PhD.
"That was amazing because obviously on a daily basis I wanted to give up," she said.
"I am grateful to so many people who provided me with the support to keep on going.
"Deakin University has been absolutely fantastic".
"Because I am dyslexic, I have had to rely on a lot of friends who would proof read and on one particular friend who took dictation from me.
"I have also had tremendous domestic support from my family."
Armed with her doctorate, Dr Lawson is now keen to spread the word, to ensure more people with autism have the opportunity for focused use of time and space so that they too might expand their academic and personal horizons.
She will also write her poetry and other literary works – and continue in her role as a lecturer with the University of Birmingham, yes Birmingham in the English Midlands.
Dr Lawson has discovered that using e-mail and the Internet in distance education is the perfect way for her to operate.
Wendy Lawson, PhD, has found her developed career.
- Dr Wendy Lawson's personal website: Welcome! My name Is Wendy Lawson and I am Autistic
- Transcript of a recent interview on ABC Radio in which she argues for jobs for people with autism