E=mc² : Life brings autism into the equation

Working with the autistic community and the importance of user voice

The Creative Explorations Project is well underway at the International Centre for Life (Life) in Newcastle Upon Tyne. The project, funded by the Inspiring Science Fund in 2017, comprises a new inclusive space-themed exhibition and a makerspace. This unique and exciting project has focused on working with under-represented groups to help develop these spaces.

David Jones was appointed Community Liaison Manager at Life. Part of his role involved working with the North East Autism Society (NE-AS) to recruit an advisory group of young autistic people. Kerrie Highcock, the Family Development Manager at NE-AS, worked closely with David and the group of young autistic people to influence the development of the new spaces within Life.

In the first session with the advisory group, some ice-breaker games inspired the young people to come up with their own name for the group: E=mc², which represents ‘Equality Matters and we Care’.

Over the next 18 months, the partnership between Life, NE-AS and E=mc² grew stronger and trust developed. It was vital that Life demonstrated that the thoughts and ideas of the group were being listened to. The group explored the entire science centre, providing feedback and Life listened and put some of these ideas into practise. When it was time to test prototypes for the new exhibitions, the members of E=mc² were already confident that Life would value their feedback. Their insights supported the development of the final exhibits.

Through building trust and relationships, the project has evolved beyond initial expectations. During lockdown, for example, a parent of one of the youngsters in E=mc² reached out, inviting David and Kerrie to join a private Facebook group that they had set up. This opportunity led to short science films being made and shared widely within the autistic community.

The videos below demonstrate the positive impact the project has had on each of the partners, as well as providing invaluable advice for anyone looking to partner with communities (all videos have subtitles available, just click the setting when the video plays).

David Jones from Life outlines the impact of the project.
Kerrie from the North East Autism Society talks about her experience of the project.
Zoe and Nic share their experiences.
David Jones gives an outline of his "Secrets of Consultation"

Further information

For a more indepth article outlining David’s experiences, see his article in Spokes: https://www.ecsite.eu/activities-and-services/news-and-publications/digital-spokes/issue-59#section=section-indepth&href=/feature/depth/improving-experience-visitors-autism

BIG online conference. David, Kerrie discuss the project in more detail with Zoe and Nic from the autistic group. Zoe starts her presentation at 19:20, where she talks about the tools and environments that make her feel calm:


Examples of online science lessons NE-AS and Life has created for the autistic community during lockdown:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVAdCcm51BQ, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scz39WwZgVc

David and Kerrie on supporting wellbeing and building trust with young autistic people during lockdown: