Weekend Reading: The Autism In Our Midst

This week is Autism Acceptance Week, and wherever I look, people are talking about autism.

As an autistic person myself, it’s actually quite disconcerting. But a lot of it is positive, because the books and videos and blogposts and all the other things are increasingly coming from autistic people themselves. That’s new – even just a few years ago, it was rare to hear from autistic adults, and most of what we heard online and in the media was from autism professionals working with children. This is a very welcome development – although we still have a long way to go before we can dispel the myths that have grown up around autism.

You may have seen some of the documentaries on autism that have come out over the last month. The OU and the BBC co-produced Inside Our Autistic Minds with Chris Packham, which was really rather good, and then the BBC brought out Christine McGuinness: Unmasking My Autism (which I haven’t watched yet). Finally there was the Channel 4 Dispatches programme Locked Away: Our Autism Scandal – which I’ll probably never have the courage to watch! Programmes on autism seem to be everywhere right now, and they’re doing a lot to raise awareness.

Even just today, I heard about the launch of a crowdfunding campaign by the extraordinary Tamsin Shasha from the Actors of Dionysus (who put on the first Greek play I ever saw, when I was at school), for a project exploring the relationship between a mother and her autistic child. Tamsin was inspired by her own son’s autism diagnosis, and the show looks like it will be something quite special!

I’ve been jumping on the bandwagon myself, writing a post about some of the accessibility work I’ve been doing, in this case with the Classical Association. I’ve written a lot about autism over the last two years, but the difference now is that people in Classics are actually taking notice – and more importantly, taking action.

But today, on my own blog, I don’t really want to talk about me (again!). Instead I’d like to draw your attention to some of the fabulous autistic people already working in Classics, whom you might not have encountered yet.

There are so many of them that I don’t know where to start – which is funny, because a few years ago I didn’t know anybody in Classics who was autistic, or at least who admitted to it. Unfortunately, though, it’s still the case that many people in Classics don’t want to be known as autistic, because of the huge professional disadvantages that can come with too much visibility. So I’m focusing today on people who talk publicly about being autistic, and hope to give you a sense of just how fabulous they are.

Dr Ellie Mackin Roberts

Dr Ellie Mackin Roberts is an autistic classicist who works in an amazing variety of areas. She has published some great books and articles on Greek religion – I have a signed copy of her beautiful Heroines of Olympus in my own library! – and she’s also a TikTok star. Through TikTok her videos about the ancient world reach thousands of people.

Ellie is also a driving force behind Assemblywomen, an innovative new Video Journal which offers a different way of disseminating research. Here’s one of the videos…

Ellie’s work is always exciting and innovative, combining her deep knowledge of the ancient world with an ability to find new ways of presenting information.

Karl Anthony Mercer

Karl Anthony Mercer is an autistic poet, writer and Classics enthusiast whose career over the last couple of years has been a joy to follow.

I first encountered Karl a couple of years ago, when he was kind enough to contribute a piece to my Comfort Classics interview series – and since then he’s gone from strength to strength. Through a Curating for Change placement at Colchester Museums, he’s been exploring autism through museum collections, and even featuring in documentaries:

This week Karl’s work with museums has gone a step further. He’s curated an exhibit based on his own life as an autistic person, for “Un/Masked” at Colchester Castle Museum. The exhibition looks at autistic lives and achievements from the perspective of their significant under-representation in museum collections and exhibitions. I’m deeply envious and now have a new aspiration to add to my list!

Image from Karl on Twitter

Hilary Forbes

Hilary Forbes is an autistic Classics MA graduate who is just about to start a PhD. She also has degrees in many other areas, teaches Astronomy, and works on making things better in the workplace for other autistic people. Working with the specialist support organisation Reachout ASC, Hilary shares her expertise as an autistic teacher to help others. You could check out this free course on Being an Autistic Teacher; or read Hilary’s blog, The Classical Astronomer, about her progress from MA to PhD.

Hilary’s academic work is tremendously interesting, combining her knowledge of Astronomy, Maths and Physics with her interest in the classical world. She recently gave a lecture to The Society for the History of Astronomy, based on her MA project. I can’t wait to see what she’ll do with her PhD research!

Frome the Society for the History of Astronomy March 2022 Report

Ellie, Karl and Hilary are people who inspire me – looking at their projects and passions makes me hopeful about what I could achieve. I’m also fascinated by our similarities and differences: we’re all so very different in our interests and backgrounds, but we share a way of reaching our goals which is creative, curiosity-driven and definitely not traditional!

I know that this is Autism Acceptance Week – but I’m not really asking for acceptance for Ellie, Karl, Hilary or myself, or for any of the other brilliant autistic classicists whom I haven’t featured here. Acceptance should be a given. Instead I’d like this to be Autism Appreciation Week – and I’d like to pass on to them all my appreciation for everything they do. Thank you for making the world ever so slightly more exciting!

This week from around the Classical Internet


Latin in Scottish state schools – TES Magazine

Ptolemy’s lost manuscript discovered – Newsweek

Roman silver fragment in Diss – BBC

Comment and opinion

When Medusa Meets #MeToo – Public Books

Were the Celts primitive barbarians? – The Collector

How to write like Cicero – Consult The Classics

Greek gods in the DC Universe – We Got This Covered

The Cult of Mithras on coins – CoinWeek

Podcasts, video and other media

The Gallic Empire – Emperors of Rome

Solon the Lawgiver – In Our Time

Real women of the Greek world – Let’s Talk About Myths, Baby!

New shop alert! From the wonderful Jasmine Elmer. I’m saving up for an Augustus hoodie!

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