Edinburgh Festival Fringe is a beacon of individuality for our time: it presents a platform for anybody with the desire to express themselves and whatever makes them individuals. Regardless of gender or sexual orientation, perceived or actual disability, and any facet of humankind that makes you part of an in-group, this city and its festival will let you do you. It is perhaps surprising then, that amidst the ocean of niche markets, there are relatively few shows addressing the autistic spectrum – a social ‘disorder’ that affects about 1 in 60 (although it has been suggested that almost everyone displays tendencies that place us somewhere on the spectrum). Enter Paul Wady, Champion of the Autistics, on a mission to educate the world on how autism should not be classified as a disorder, and that those of us who display autistic attributes should embrace them as a positive part of our identities.
Paul Wady's Aspies shows have real potential to change lives
If I’ve lost you already, don’t waste your time reading further, if the review's not for you then the show certainly won't be. It is designed for the scientifically and behaviourally curious, and those who want to better understand autistic perspectives. Wady assembles a small group of autistic Edinburgh performers to read poetry by themselves and others, relating to their experiences and viewpoints. Some performance pieces impress and the performers, while perfectly competent, don’t deliver much material that will astound. What you will benefit from is the overall sense of self-acceptance and empowerement, as the brave, honest writers learn to accept themselves and what others may consider shortcomings, but are in fact unavoidable, and positive, attributes of their nature.
Early on, a member of the audience made non-verbal noises which may have drawn negative attention in another show. Wady, unphased, gave her a thumbs up and encouraged anyone in the room to avoid suppressing their ‘stims’ or however their attributes manifest. It really was a roomful of acceptance. I spoke to the girl’s parents after the show and they said they support autistic acts in a show of solidarity, rather than a voyage of discovery, and felt as though they were a part of a community during Stealth Aspies.
Wady and his co-performers Serin Thomasin and Alain English are among the rapidly increasing number of people being diagnosed on the autistic spectrum after reaching adulthood, and anyone who has ever considered themselves to be inexplicably different to most ‘normal’ people may discover a thing or two about themselves here. The material is interesting but a bit repetitive and people going for top quality spoken word may leave disappointed. But Wady and his shows Guerilla Aspies and Stealth Aspies have real potential to change lives, far beyond that of the more pleasurable four- and five- star shows of the Fringe.