Summer 2023: Maeve, our Autism@Manchester intern shares her experience of the role
Maeve Stillman, a 2nd year Biosciences student completed an 6 week summer internship with us. The internship is jointly organised by Autism@Manchester and The University of Manchester’s Careers Service and aims to allow autistic students to experience working in an autism research lab.
Life as a recently diagnosed autistic person can be truly eye opening in many ways. For instance, recently I’ve learned to understand my quirks and masked behaviour as coping mechanisms when I’m overloaded. My late diagnosis was partly due to my stereotyped understanding of this condition as affecting males obsessed with categorising trains or cars. I was quite shocked by my diagnosis, but as a curious person, I researched and found that there is a spectrum of traits that broke these stereotypes, especially for females. I also noticed that there was current autism research taking place at the University of Manchester in the fields of communication and sensory experience.
I joined the Autism@Manchester Expert by Experience group to get involved and help shape the direction of research with input from across the autism community. I then noticed an opening for a Summer Experience Internship (SEI) with the Autism@Manchester laboratory, I applied and was thrilled to be given the role.
After being introduced to Dr Emma Gowen (Director), I discovered that the aim of this research is not only to improve autism awareness and understanding, but importantly to bridge the gap between autistic people and research through direct collaboration. This work takes place at the BEAM (Body Eyes and Movement) laboratory in the Carys Bannister building on campus.
I was surprised to find out the range of projects that I would be assisting on, working for Research Lecturers as well as Masters and PhD students. The work included mass data handling of gestures and oral expression using coding frames. Being comfortable with using software like Excel was a clear advantage here. Also, I wrote Lay Summaries on motor imagery and social communication studies to give the general public access to exciting, new research findings.
I was also tasked with improving the accessibility of the website, infographics, and welcome documents for the Autism@Manchester group. As a readily available autistic person, I was even required to trial the design phase of studies! I was able to give small insights, such as the importance of warm up and cool down time around tasks, which can make all the difference to the comfort levels of participants.
It was so invaluable to learn about qualitative research practices since I come from a more quantitative background. Handling qualitative data was new to me but I was quick to get to grips with it because everyone made it so easy to ask questions. Progress meetings often turned into in-depth research discussions. Topics such as proprioception, language differences and the crossover of autism with other conditions took over from the usual small talk, which I must admit, I loved.
This internship has taught me the value of including qualitative data alongside quantitative research. Although challenging, I’ve learnt that time management is a skill rather than a talent, understanding what works for you is the key.
It’s thanks to collaborative autism researchers, such as Dr Emma, and many others, that I understand myself and others better. I am now continuing my journey into an improved understanding of my own diagnosis, and I feel positive about my future.
Here are the two things I will take forward from my internship experience:
- Understanding autism and therefore myself better, plus
- Experiencing a high standard of inclusive work practices.
I would advise anyone eligible to apply for this or similar SEI’s. I still have some concerns about life as an autistic adult, but I am confident that asking for small accommodations in a flexible work environment can make all the difference.
Thank you to everyone involved for their support during this unique opportunity.