Linguistic PhD student insight into autism wins honourable mention

Gemma Williams’ work, We’re All Strangers Here  based on her research into, and experience of, autism was awarded an ‘Honourable Mention’ in an international competition.

The work described as “(auto)ethnographic fiction”, was recognised in the Society for Humanistic Anthropology’s 2019 Ethnographic Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Prize.

The piece explores Gemma’s “experience as an autistic researcher and what that means within research into autistic language use”. It forms part of her PhD thesis and will be published next year in the Anthropology and Humanism journal.

Gemma will travel to Vancouver in November to attend the awards ceremony, which is included within the American Anthropological Association conference.

She said she was “surprised” to be receive the award recognition, and that she spent “three hours dancing around my houseboat” after finding out.

Of her entry, Gemma said: “It tells the story of the first day of data collection for my PhD research – which sounds quite boring on the face of it, but it describes it from three perspectives; mine, as the researcher, and the imagined perspectives of two of my participants.

“These perspectives are composite characters based loosely on two of the participants I had, with other characteristics borrowed from others.”

“My research investigates autistic communication and I myself am autistic. I wanted to experiment with a more evocative way of conveying the nuances of the different ways autism manifests itself in different personalities.”

Gemma imagines that readers of her thesis will largely not be autistic, and that they would benefit from her insight “in a personal way”.

She said she “can’t wait” to travel to Vancouver for the ceremony and conference. “I have an old friend living out there and I’ve heard great things about it,” said Gemma. “I want to find some vegan poutine and stare out at some mountains.”

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