Reflections on the re-launch of SARG

Welcome back SARGers! A mixture of new research projects, babies, and a slightly parched landscape on the event funding front led to a five year hibernation after our last event in 2010. However, a steady stream of enquiries over those years convinced us that there was still a need for an organisation that would bring together researchers, professionals, students, and the autism community, in order to help support and drive forwards autism research in Scotland. It was therefore with great excitement (and a somewhat rejuvenated organising committee!) that we organised our new website and re-launch event last month. Planning this blog post offered me an opportunity to work through the feedback from the re-launch (thank you!), as well as considering my own experience of the day.

On the day it was great to welcome back ‘old faces’, though I hope that we managed to avoid ‘cliquey-ness’ and offered a warm welcome to new members.  I felt some satisfaction that, despite the passing of the years, some things in SARG haven’t changed at all. True to our aims, we still manage to attract a very diverse audience, bringing together academics, postgraduate students and professionals from a wide range of disciplines (Psychology, Education, Speech and Language, Psychiatry, and Informatics to name a few), as well as representatives from the autism community, and charity organisations. We still offer plenty of opportunities for participants from all these groups to network. One participant commented on the need to “break down silos” between the various groups, and I hope that we are striving to achieve that. In line with our aims, we also still offer the opportunity to engage in debate on cutting-edge research, considering the potential impact and future directions of such research in a scholarly (but hopefully good-natured) atmosphere.

Some of my views were reflected in the feedback, with a huge number of positive comments about the opportunities there had been to learn about specific areas of recent research. The networking aspect also received much favourable attention. The feedback also suggested that the event might result in longer-term impact for some of the individuals who attended, with many notes about how participants would: disseminate the research ideas; use the event to inform research and practice; and follow up on the connections that they had made.

Some things have changed since the ‘old’ SARG events, and these developments are welcome. Technology for the seminars has moved on – it’s nice not to have to lug round a backpack of spare laptops and extension leads all day ‘just in case’! We changed the format a little for this event, and these developments (e.g. the round table discussions and the ‘Research in a Flash’ talks) were very well received on the whole. There are deeper changes too, though. The nature of the discussion about research has changed somewhat, I think: building on reports such as A Future Made Together and Autistica’s One in a Hundred there is now more of an emphasis on how research will involve, serve, and be received by the autism community. This is a welcome and important development, and one which cannot be considered separately from discussions on theory, research methods, or statistical analysis of findings.

So, where do we go next?

We can consider this at two levels: in terms of research in Scotland and in terms of SARG itself. In terms of research in Scotland, the roundtable workshops on future research directions generated a huge volume of notes (many thanks to our group facilitators – who knew that a one hour discussion would generate so much information to be typed up!). We are now analysing this and will report on it later this year. Considering these discussion sessions, along with the report of the recent AAR meetings and publications such as A Future Made Together, should be hugely informative. Even from the event feedback, though, there were some clear views on this. Overwhelmingly, there is a call for researchers to conduct research that has impact on, and is seen as important by, autism communities. Many pointed out the importance of collaboration between stakeholder groups in order to achieve this, and hopefully SARG can contribute to this. The need to focus on the strengths and contributions of the ASD population was also highlighted (many participants commented that Beatriz Lopez’s research was a great example of this). There were also calls for better identification of research priorities, for research funding to be better targeted to meet the needs of the autism community, and for there to be greater transparency about the links between national autism strategy and research funding. Scotland was seen by a number of participants as being well-placed to do this (e.g. relatively small population, good networks and relationships between stakeholder groups), whilst some also mentioned the need to appreciate the value of broader networks within the UK and internationally.

In terms of the future of SARG, it was clear from comments and feedback on the day that there is lots of enthusiasm for future SARG events, with many ideas contributed about specific events that we could hold – are we ready for researcher-community member-practitioner research ‘speed dating’?! As highlighted in the feedback, it is also important for us to create events that are balanced in terms of opportunities for in-depth scientific discussion about research findings, with accessible presentation of findings for those without a background in statistics. Finally, the role that SARG plays in helping to determine/facilitate the direction of autism research in Scotland, and the manner in which we do so, is also something that we should continue to reflect on. We welcome your views on all these matters via email:

post by Katie Cebula

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