PPIE Award Winner 2023: Alexandra Sturrock

by | Feb 27, 2024 | PPIE Award Winners, PPIE Celebration | 0 comments

In this blog series we will be featuring our award winners and highly commended recipients from the Faculty’s ‘Outstanding Contribution to PPIE’ awards. Showcasing the inspirational and outstanding commitment to PPIE that has made a positive difference to our community and highlighting the amazing events, activities, people and groups from across the Faculty.  

Our next blog in this series will feature Dr Alexandra Sturrock, Clinical Lecturer and Consultant Speech and Language Therapist. Alexandra created and hosted ‘Beyond Words,’ an event series which explored autistic children’s own experiences of communication differences, through their words and interpretations of those words into visual representations. Alexandra was highly commended in the Individual (staff) category at the 2023 awards.  

Subtle language and communication difficulties are experienced by many autistic individuals even when they do not have additional learning disabilities. These difficulties may affect a person’s day-to-day living, social relationships and emotional well-being. However, there has been little exploration into how autistic children experience these difficulties and what impact this has on their daily lives. By enhancing our understanding of these communication challenges, we can create therapies and strategies to overcome them. 

In March, Alexandra hosted ‘Beyond Words’ at the Whitworth Gallery, an event which explored the communication experiences of autistic children through visual arts. The full-day PPIE event comprised an exhibition, workshop and talk. It attracted a diverse group of attendees, presented art from local autistic artists, and offered volunteering opportunities to students from the University and Pinc College, an inclusive, supportive art college for neurodivergent young people.  

The exhibition comprised of novel artwork from two commissioned sources: professional Ukrainian artist, Anastasia Khmelevska, and young neuro-divergent art students at Pinc College (Manchester). The images explored original quotes from autistic children collected during academic research by Dr Sturrock (2021). The event was designed to enhance understanding of communication differences for and with autistic individuals. 

Students at Pinc College were asked to select poignant quotes from the research and interpret them as they chose. Teachers described quotes as extremely powerful, offering “first hand experiences” on communication difficulties. One student enjoyed the opportunity to “[show] people the way I see the world around me. The whole college worked on this project over the spring term, resulting in 13 pieces of individualised artwork, covering various aspects of the theme, including the impact of communication differences on social interactions and emotional well-being.

On the 25th of March, the Garden Studio at The Whitworth hosted the exhibition alongside a full day of workshop activities, attracting around 65 attendees. Visitors were asked to think about quotes from the research and generate their own images along the theme. The whole event was described as a “celebration” of neurodiversity, which for one family, helped their daughter embrace her neurodiverse identity. Audiences learnt about autistic communication strengths and strategies, while children and families shared experiences in a ‘celebration’ of autistic creativity.

The event also offered volunteer work opportunities for four BSc Speech and Language Therapy students, who gained skills interacting with autistic children and their families. Three work experience students from Pinc College also provided ushering services to attendees and one acted as photographic reporter for the day. 

A talk highlighting the collaboration between UoM and Pinc was subsequently hosted at Manchester Museum, attracting around 50 individuals. A legacy online gallery has been established and images shared through social media (reaching 2600). 

The project achieved universal acclaim with one parent stating, “an event like this is key to spreading awareness and educating others in supporting interaction”. 

Find out more:  

Follow Alexandra on twitter – @Alex_Sturrock 

Follow Beyond Words on Twitter – @BeyondWordsArt 

To find out more about PPIE: watch our short film, sign up to the monthly Public Engagement Digest, visit the PPIE blog, or contact srbmh@manchester.ac.uk.  

To read more about other PPIE Award winners visit our blogsite.