To raise awareness about autism, challenge misconceptions, and promote neurodiversity, members of the Cambridge study team working on AIMS-2-TRIALS collaborated with a group of six autistic people and parents of autistic people (A-Reps) to design a creative project that combines art and science.

More than meets the eye.

The theme ‘More than meets the eye’ was chosen to challenge perceptions of autism through the lenses of art and science. Art has the potential to help us gain a deeper understanding of autistic people’s experiences, feelings, thoughts, and impressions. In a different, but equally important, way science expands our knowledge of autism. Both encourage us to view autism beyond our first impressions and understand the diversity of people’s experiences.

There are many autistic creatives, and the group wanted to showcase this through the project. There can be a stereotype that autistic people are only interested in science and technology, but this isn’t true for all autistic people. Expressing science through art can open up science to a wider audience by enhancing understanding and accessibility. The group designing the project also wanted to give autistic people visibility in a way that allows them to control the narrative about their autism by expressing their autism through art.

The design process.

The study team and A-Reps worked together to design the project and what it would include. The group decided to run a competition to gather artwork from autistic artists that could be displayed as an exhibition on the more than meets the eye website.  The visual look and content of the site was designed collaboratively. Where there were different options within the group, votes were used or ranking of preferences to make decisions.

It was important to the group that the competition was as accessible as possible, so they chose to have categories for people requiring support with their entry to the competition and those not requiring additional support. As the project (AIMS-2-TRIALS) and members of this group are from across Europe, it was key to enable entry to the competition from a range of countries across Europe.

The group nominated judges to review the artwork which included autistic artists as well as people involved in running art galleries and art projects that benefit neurodiverse people. The group then ranked the nominations to come up with the 3 preferred judges. 

Sarah Douglas an autistic research advisor, and member of the project team, reflected “Being involved with the Arts and Science WG has been a real pleasure. It has been great to have an opportunity to work with my other A-Reps to challenge stereotypical tropes that autistic people are only interested in tech. Seeing the art work that was entered into the competition was a real joy and a testament to the creative talent of autistic people.”

Key features of the project.

The ‘more and meets the eye’ website was designed to host the competition, which was launched in early April 2023 and ran for 5 months. It now hosts the competition outcome and gallery.

The site includes a quiz which aims to challenge autism stereotypes, designed and written by the group and a generating word cloud which asks the question ‘what do autistic people want from research?’. It also features discussion videos between A-Reps and researchers that have been illustrated to give a visual representation of the conversation, and videos from AIMS-2-TRIALS researchers describing their work.

Art created for the competition includes a wide range of styles and media, from painting to digital art, and even poetry. Entries were received from 6 countries across Europe. All of the artwork expresses the diverse ways that autistic people experience the world, and each piece of art submitted to the competition shows a unique perspective on autistic life that is always more than meets the eye.