Running from 2009 to 2011, the ACE (Autism Connections Europe) project aimed to provide autistic adults an opportunity to enhance their communication and social skills by participating in online communities, travelling to other countries in Europe (Slovenia, Italy, Great Britain and Estonia) and developing skills to advocate for their rights.
Communicating via Facebook accross borders
At the beginning of the project, all autistic participants created a Facebook account to start communicating online, under the supervision and with the support of project’s partners. A battery of test was also created by Doc. Johnny Lawson from the Oxford Bridge University (United Kingdom) in order to measure the benefits of the project for the participants.
First meeting of ACE partners in Slovenia
The project partners – namely Autism-Europe (Belgium), Estonian Autism Society (Estonia), Oxford Brookes University (United Kingdom) and Autism Romania (Romania) – travelled with their delegations to Ljubljana, in Slovenia, to join the project’s coordinator, Centre for Autism Slovenia.
It gave autistic delegates the opportunity to meet in real life their counterparts from other countries, that some of them had already met online. During their stay in Ljubljana, they were able to get to know each other through various social activities. Various workshops and visits allowed them to learn more about Slovenia and its capital. They also had the opportunity to meet with the President of Autism-Europe for a Q&As session.
A press conference was organised in order to raise awareness of autism in Slovenia and inform about the ACE project’s objectives. On the last day, a high level conference “Inclusion: switch from minus to plus” gathered project’s participants, as well as various representatives from Slovenian disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and ministries to discuss the issue of rights and inclusion of people with disabilities, and in particular of autistic people. Several speakers from various European Union’s countries (France, Hungary, Czech Republic, United Kingdom) shared their expertise and good practices with the audience.
The final ACE project’s international conference took place in Italy
Between 8th and 11th October 2010, the 9th Autism-Europe’s International Congress was hosted in Catania (Italy). Since Autism-Europe is a partner of the ACE project, AE’s International Congress encompassed also the 2nd ACE’s international conference.
The main topic of the ACE’s conference was the usability of online social networks for autistic people, and it was entitled “Using online social networks as a tool for developing social skills of persons with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD)”. The conference included the presention of the most recent global research on autism and hosted top experts in the field of autism studies.
The project was presented by Vesna Melanšek, President of the Center for autism Slovenia (Slovenia), and Janja Kranjc, Psychologist of the Center for autism Slovenia (Slovenia) and head of the ACE project.
Marianne Kuzemtshenko presented the Estonian Autism Society (Estonia) and its role in the ACE project, while Liuba Lacoblev introduced Autism Romania (Romania) to the audience. John Lawson, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the Oxford Brooke’s University (United Kingdom), presented the course of research in the ACE project scope.
Maddalena Fiordelli from University of Lugano (Switzerland) spoke about the topical findings of the research in use on Facebook and its influence on communications skills of autistic people. Autistic participants also shared their opinion on the ACE project.
The conference concluded with an open discussion between the audience and two experts in the field of autism studies. Ami Klin from Yale Child Study Center (United States) and Patricia Howlin from St. George’s Hospital Medical School of London (United Kingdom) presented their work and engaged in a fruitful debate with the ACE project’s participants.