AUTISTIC teens have protested against stigma through a powerful art exhibition.

After months of work, a band of young people proudly calling themselves the Autistic Activists were the guests of honour at their own art exhibition at the community arts space, Thought Foundation, in Durham Road, Birtley, near near Chester-le-Street.

As part of a collaboration between the Thought Foundation and the North East Autism Society, artist Danni Gilbert of iAMi, was commissioned to work alongside a small group of autistic young people on a fortnightly basis.

The culmination of their work was a dynamic and thought-provoking installation, as part of a six-week long exhibition entitled Let’s Talk Disability.

Designed to both educate and inform society, their pieces carried strong imagery and messages such as "autism is not a disease".

Amanda McMahon, director of learning and engagement at Thought Foundation, said: “I’m overwhelmed.

“The aim of this project was to give these young people a voice and it’s incredible to know that we have been able to create a safe space where they could be creative and they could explore their thoughts.

“My hope is that people will understand the messages, and that it will provoke acceptance and open doors to change.”

“We’ve loved working with the North East Autism Society on this. We just clicked from the start and I knew this could be something special. Allowing young people to access the arts really can be a way to making lasting change in Society – and this is the proof of that. We hope lots of people come along and see the Autistic Activists’ work.”

Emma Thomas, whose son Ed was involved in the Big Lottery-funded initiative, said: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a positive change in Ed. It was something I hadn’t dared hope for. I think being with other autistic young people and their siblings, making friends, and being able to express their feelings about autism was powerful in so many ways."

During a preview of the exhibition which will run until the middle of June, artist Danni Gilbert spoke about the project alongside Lisa Taylor and Kerrie Highcock from the North East Autism Society. Illustrator Aaron Lambert, who created animation for the exhibition’s centrepiece, also attended.

Danni said: “The thing that struck me most was just how insightful these young people are about themselves and about society, at such young ages.

“Working together with these amazing young people had a profoundly calming effect on me actually – there’s a lot of hope to be derived for our future when we have young people so able and articulate, who want a more accepting society.

“Autism wasn’t a foreign concept to me, so I was thrilled to be commissioned by the Thought Foundation to be part of this. My partner is autistic and I’m being assessed for ADHD myself. I feel very proud to have been part of this.”