The Curly Hair Project is a social enterprise that supports people on the autistic spectrum and the people around them, founded by autistic author Alis Rowe. They use appealing things like animated films, comic strips and diagrams to make their work interesting and easy to understand.
To celebrate an agreement that enables members of NAS Surrey Branch to receive a discount of 10% off Curly Hair Project e-Courses and books, Carol Teunon interviewed founder Alis Rowe to find out more about her fascinating story. Details of how to get this discount are at the end of this article.
CT: How did you go about getting your diagnosis? Did you find that it was easy to get a referral?
AR: I met with my GP. I had previously met with him over the difficulties I faced and originally, he gave me a diagnosis of Social Anxiety. But I never felt that this diagnosis covered it all. I knew that there appeared to be other things that I found difficult, but I didn’t necessarily understand the extent of this or how to express it to the GP. I specifically asked for a referral for an autism assessment. I think in my case it was helpful to have built up a relationship with him.
CT: What prompted you to set up The Curly Hair Project?
AR: When I was given my diagnosis, I did what most would do, I sought information. However much of what I found didn’t quite fit for me. I particularly liked Tony Attwood’s work but still felt that I had a different perception on some aspects. So, I wondered if others felt the same as I did. I initially started with a Facebook page, posting my observations and soon found that many recognised the way in which I view the world. I also wrote Asperger’s and Me around the same time, which has been hugely popular too.
CT: Did you have any help at the start?
AR: No, only the support of my family and one or two close friends. In 2014 I met Sam who still works on the Project. She persuaded me to allow her to deliver some of our workshops elsewhere in the UK, as previously I had just delivered my work in London. Sam and I then built up a team of trainers who covered the whole of the UK. I think the public would be very surprised to see how small a team we are considering how much we are able to achieve.
CT: How do you go about writing a new webinar or e-course? Is it a team effort and how do you find working as part of a team?
AR: I work alone. Occasionally I will ask for feedback from team members, for example on specific topics such as Gender Dysphoria. I value the experience we have in the team and in very specific topics it’s important to work with others who really understand the subject. However, mostly I work alone.
Many of my webinars derive from a book I have written (I believe I have now written 26 books!), and generally, I find that the most useful way to develop a training session whether it is face to face or via a webinar.
The e-courses have often been developed around the animations I have developed. My animations now form a core part of our training in all formats, from short clips to longer 13-minute films which show the way in which an autistic person sees the world.
In terms of working as part of a team, CHP is a team organisation, but we work a little differently from a traditional company. Much of our communication is via email or message, but we meet as required. Sam tends to manage team meetings and day to day matters and will ask for support as required. In the same way, if I want to do something different, I will often talk with Sam or email her, as appropriate. I still get a lot of support from my family and will often discuss my plans and day to day experiences with them.
CT: What changes did you need to make last year when you couldn’t host meetings face-to-face?
AR: When the first lockdown began in March, our team had quite a job on their hands to cancel venues and any associated costs. But we still wanted to carry out the sessions. We were already delivering webinars on some key topics and so we largely amalgamated what was already in place and set up new webinars for topics that were not covered. Our followers were very supportive and also patient as in the early weeks we experienced some challenges with technology as many did, with everyone wanting to use the internet at home. Initial difficulties were soon resolved, and we have really enjoyed delivering the work via webinars. We have added a number of titles to our catalogue, some being pandemic related, and we have also developed a range of webinars that are aimed at parent/child involvement. These cover anxiety, emotions and socialising and have been hugely popular.
CT: Do you think you will continue on Zoom when things return to normal?
AR: I believe we will always offer webinars as they are a great way at connecting with those who cannot attend a training day – some of our attendees on webinars are from overseas so they would not usually be able to attend. I don’t honestly know if we will offer face to face sessions again, we will have to see if there is a need. If there’s a need for face to face training, we will deliver it.
CT: Which of your courses would you recommend the most for a parent of a newly diagnosed child?
AR: We offer around 20 different titles but if I were to make recommendations to a newly diagnosed child and their family, I would suggest:
This would give them a good start I believe.
CT: What are your plans for The Curly Hair Project in the future e.g., new topics or any interactive events?
AR: Our webinars are interactive in that audience members are able to ask questions via the chatbox and tend to do so, as we deliver our work with an offer to ask anything about autism in a general Q and A at the end. We develop a relationship with our audience, and those who attend webinars are also told that they can email anytime for more specific support.
In terms of future plans, I plan to develop more e-courses and create more animations. We are also working on our marketing as we are certain that there are still those who haven’t heard of CHP and we’d like to change that!
Members of NAS Surrey Branch can get a 10% discount off Curly Hair Project webinars, e-courses and books. Resources are used by GPs, psychologists, speech and language therapists and teaching professionals. The webinars really show what it is like to be autistic, from the inside, and are therefore extremely helpful for autistic adults and parents of autistic children. They focus on strategies that help.
Just go to https://thegirlwiththecurlyhair.co.uk/ and use the code NASSURREY, when you check out to access the 10% discount.