Anglia Ruskin student represents the views of autistic people in the national media

Published: 21 August 2008 at 13:25

Student with Asperger syndrome helps ‘train’ others with autism to deal with daily life challenges

Robyn Steward, who is studying Creative Online Design at Anglia Ruskin University’s Cambridge campus, and former student and regular trainer at the   regional centre for students with autistic spectrum disorders at City College Norwich,   has represented the views of autistic people on national television and won an award that will see her travel to the USA to learn more about autism. She is a specialist trainer, teaching PGCE and Cert Ed students at universities, as well as university, college and schools teaching and support staff. Robyn is firmly committed to providing training from a person not just a textbook.

Robyn, who herself has Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, was interviewed by both Huw Edwards on the BBC News Channel and by Jon Snow on Channel 4 News, and describes the unusual world of the live television interview:

“While at Anglia Ruskin I started doing media work for The National Autistic Society, to support the charity’s think differently about autism campaign.”

“I had never been into a commercial TV studio before. Because I was interviewed on the news, this meant I only got a few hours notice before a car whisked me to the studios. The first interview I did was with Huw Edwards at BBC Television Centre, which looks, oddly, just as it does on TV! At Channel 4, once the interview with Jon Snow was done, I came back to the green room - where a TV was on - and it felt as though reality had curved round on itself like a mirror. There, I had watched the story before mine, then been on the TV while I was interviewed, and now there I was and the next story was on."

More importantly for Robyn, she had been able to make some serious points about the experiences of people with autism on a national forum to millions of people in television audiences.

“The strongest thing I feel is that I've been able to make a difference. I've received a bit of correspondence from the media work I've done and I am proud to know that I have, in some small way, influenced people's views on autism - and perhaps the ostracisation I experienced at school will be reduced for the next generation.”

Robyn, who divides her time between London, Cambridge and her home at Cratfield, in Suffolk, has been supported in her studies at Anglia Ruskin by the Learning Support and Disability Resources team on the Cambridge campus. She says this experience has been much more positive and completely the opposite of school:

"In my first year I was supported by a very experienced learning support assistant, David Spong. The support was tailored around my needs: the support services at Anglia do not go by the one-size-fits-all ethic."

During the summer, Robyn was interviewed by the Guardian, again helping The National Autistic Society to increase understanding of autism and Asperger syndrome. Robyn also works as a trainer, raising awareness about Asperger syndrome 'from a person not just a textbook', as she says, and will soon be delivering training to members of the Learning Support and Disability Resources team who wish to widen their experience and improve the quality of their response to people with autism and Asperger syndrome.

More recently, Robyn applied for and successfully gained a Charlie Bayne Travel Trust award to go to America, where she'll be visiting California between 19 September and 6 October. At University of California, Los Angeles, she hopes to find out more about the University’s autism social skills programme and research.  As part of the visit, she will be delivering a talk at UCLA to staff and families connected with the medical centre and local charities concerned with autism. Robyn will then fly to San Francisco to talk about autism on a TV show, followed by visiting a local high school and she will speak to members of a local charity.

You can watch Robyn's interview with Jon Snow at http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/society/health/breakthrough+in+autism+research+/2201352

The National Autistic Society's website has a wealth of information about autism http://www.nas.org.uk, and Robyn also has her own website,  http://www.robynsteward.com/, where she shares her views on many things, including her experience of Asperger syndrome.