Representations of autism – research workshop


A one day workshop on representations of autism in cinema. 10am-4pm Monday 20th April 2020 at Queen Mary, University of London. This workshop is part of the Autism and Cinema project. For more information, please contact Vicki Thornton ( or visit

Eventbrite link for event registration click here.

Hosted and run by Damian Milton from the Participatory Autism Research Collective (PARC) and Steven Eastwood.

The purpose of the workshop is to invite autistic individuals to share their experience of watching films representing autism, and to think about how these insights could actually transform the cinema. The sessions are designed to be easy and fun and will involve a group of participants including autistic adults and young adults, academics and other interested parties. Drawing on Stuart Murray’s research, you will view a range of clips from film’s whose subject is autism. Parallel sessions will look at documentary and fiction. We are going to put the cinema into a laboratory.

You will be asked to describe the things you find accurate and the things you find inaccurate in the films. This might involve thinking about characteristics and stereotypes (the savant, alien, magician), popular misconceptions and how they may be challenged, and any ideas you have about how films represent autistic experience. The mobile phone app Poll Everywhere will help you articulate your point of view, using either text or images. There will be quiet spaces near to workshop rooms, should you need them. The workshop involves two groups working in parallel rooms. Some participants may however wish to work individually.

The workshop is part of a project called Autism Through Cinema, which looks at how the cinema has created descriptions of autism and affected our understanding of neurodiversity. Our focus is more on how autism can transform cinema. A series of workshops will eventually lead to participatory filmmaking where the experiences and insights of autistic being in the world contribute to the creation of a new film.

Workshop running order:
10am: Coffee/registration
10.30am: Introductions. Participants and workshop facilitators work respond to a sample film clip, establishing the method for the day. The cohort is broken into two groups.
11.00 am: Descriptions of Autism and Portrayals of Autism (parallel sessions)
12.15pm: Lunch
1.15pm: Descriptions of Autism and Portrayals of Autism (parallel sessions)
2.30pm: Coffee break
2.45pm: Group reflections and discussions
4.00pm: Event ends

Different types of recordings will take place including video, sound, verbal, written, and tracking of eye movement. We have a standard consent form for participants to sign. If permission is given we may hold and use recorded material for our research project. Recordings can also be anonymised. Participants will receive a £10 Amazon voucher. The day has been designed to be inclusive, accessible and engaging. We hope people will take a lot away from participating and joining in with our project.

A key function of the workshops is to develop relationships with individuals who we hope will become co-creatives on the production of a feature film. The idea is to build a Neurotribes Collective who will have creative input on the film production and will have co-director credit. The feature is roughly scheduled to be filmed between Oct 2020 – Feb 2021.

Further information:
Autism Through Cinema is funded by the Wellcome Trust and led by Janet Harbord and Steven Eastwood. The project originates from the fact that s cinema reflective of autism and the experience of neurodiversity is rare. Yet it has much to offer our understanding of inner and outer life, ushering in new sensory and relational ways of being. Autism through Cinema considers how autism can transform the cinema and its reliance on normative codes of body language and social interaction. The project explores a profoundly different version of an autistic sensibility, as a condition with benefits. This wide-ranging research involves working closely with autistic contributors, collaborators and partners, in activities that include:

Bringing to public and academic attention rarely/never seen archive medical film tracing autism as it emerges as a category.

Inviting members of the autistic community to take part in interactive workshops considering the cinema’s orthodoxies and how film has represented autism, with partners City University Autism Research Centre and Damian Milton.
Working with partner charity Project Artworks to co-create a series of short films made by autistic young adults.

Producing a co-created feature length film and an accompanying VR work, in which social environments and dynamics are shared and deconstructed via autistic experience, working with partner Hakawati film production.

The workshop will take place in the Main Lecture Theatre on the ground floor of the ArtsOne building.

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