Autism With Attitude change perceptions of young people with autism at UDO European Street Dance Championships

We went there with the mentality of champions. Our goal was to change the way people look at disability

Autism with Attitude street dance group from Hillingdon Manor School, Uxbridge have changed perceptions of young people with autism by competing in the European United Dance Organisations (UDO) Championships in Germany last weekend – and winning second place in the final! Part of Outcomes First Group, Hillingdon Manor provides specialist education and support to pupils aged three to nineteen years old with autism.

The street dance troupe faced top level competition in their category from 15 other teams from across Europe – including the current Dutch and French champions, who finished in first and third place respectively. No other group had special needs. But their Dance Teacher Jonathan Baron said the high standard of their rivals did not deter them from their chief aim: “We went there with the mentality of champions. Our goal was not to win but to change the way people look at disability.”

Introduced on stage as simply “AWA” the group were able to perform alongside their rivals without preconceptions or special favours – this meant judges were completely unaware of the students’ autism before awarding their scores. Five international experts on the judging panel unanimously singled out AWA for “best street dance technique” and “best overall performance”, and also awarded the team several perfect “7”s – the maximum points.  Afterwards, one judge said the group’s performance “gave me goosebumps” and another was “in awe of their achievement”. All were in disbelief when they later discovered all members of the troupe have autism.

Led by their Dance Teacher Jonathan Baron – who first introduced dance at Hillingdon Manor School and formed the team – Autism With Attitude have trained rigorously, pushing themselves both physically and mentally, and taking their role as ambassadors for autism very seriously. Having entered the world of dance with no prior experience, the group has exceeded all expectations to win second place in such a prestigious international mainstream competition – an achievement which Jonathan says is a “direct result of their hard work and determination to succeed.”

Not only have AWA learned to dance, they have also had to overcome severe anxieties along the way – including fear of flying. To ease anxieties, as part of their preparation for the trip, the group visited Heathrow Airport where staff helped to familiarise them with check-in and security procedures, and they also had the opportunity to experience flight conditions, including take off and landing, in a flight simulator at the O2.

Commenting on the group’s achievement, dance teacher Jonathan Baron said “This experience has bolstered their confidence and they will be able to take this forward into other areas of life. It has been so empowering for the students to realise that they can do things – they just need the right opportunities and someone to invest in them. This is tangible proof that with enough belief in yourself and hard work, you can achieve anything. It’s as simple as that.”

On the flight home, one student summed up his feelings in his own words: “That was the most incredible experience of my whole life. I feel that if I can achieve this, I can achieve anything now!”

Autism With Attitude’s success qualifies them to compete in the UDO World Championships, which take place in Glasgow in August 2018.