IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Q&A with Brian Irvine

Brian Irvine is a Research Fellow at IOE's Centre for Research in Autism and Education (CRAE) in the Department of Psychology and Human Development.

What attracted you to take up your position at IOE? 

As a very early-early career researcher it was a great privilege to be able to find a position here at CRAE. The Centre for Research in Autism and Education here at IOE is known in autism research circles for its commitment to participatory research, not just as an end in itself in high quality outputs, but as a process that enables autistic voices to be resonant throughout the construction of knowledge about autism.

How long have you been at IOE?

I have been here for a whole three months. Before that, I was finishing my PhD at the University of Birmingham’s Autism Centre for Education and Research (ACER), whilst continuing to work - as I had been for the last decade - as a Specialist (Autism) Mentor with students at Royal Holloway, University of London.

What do you most enjoy about your position and why?

As a researcher - the time to immerse yourself in the thoughts of others. As a Specialist Mentor - there really are few better jobs than sitting and talking to students. We are very fortunate here in the UK that funding from the disabled students allowance permits professionals in autism, ADHD and mental health needs to have presence on our campus so as to ensure the flourishing of our students.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of? 

A question about achievements and initiatives is always a tricky one for ex-teachers. I hope I am not alone in saying that the achievement of a single student - whether it was during my time in Secondary RE, Primary SEND or Tertiary Mentoring - raising themselves to be fully themselves is one of the joys that cannot be surpassed by any initiative.

There is a deep privilege in being able to share the journey of students as they tussle with uncertainty and doubt.

What is the focus of your research and what benefits do you hope your discoveries and/or insights will bring?

My current project here at UCL is to consider the superior perceptual capacity of autistic people. There is much evidence that autistic people can hear, see and feel more than the majority do. If this is indeed true - and it looks to be so - then I think we must reframe our academic dialogue on autism in terms of gain, rather than deficit.

In doing so we create research space in which our autistic colleagues can thrive as they construct identities and theories about their own experiences.

This builds cultures in which all kinds of minds are valued for the insights that they can bring to the world’s problems.

What's the most important thing you've learned from your students about the subjects you teach?

Humility. Our perceptual frames are so varied that having just one solution to anything complex is absurd. 

From the absurd, we then seek meaning and structure anyway as a brilliant and glorious act of rebellion against the cosmos.

Do you think being in London and at UCL benefits your work and why?

May I recommend a full lunch break meandering in the British Museum, the British Library, the Wellcome Collection, or UCL’s own strange collection of bits of animals in jars… and that has just been this week! Taking time to wander with colleagues and listen to their thoughts on things that are not their speciality is just as illuminating as when you get them on their home turf.

What other subject outside of your area of specialism interests you?

As an autism practitioner, I have been taught by students over many years that everything is interesting. It is simply that we do not have enough time in our three score years and ten.

What might it surprise people to know about you?

I still have a childhood dream to work as a Muppet-eer with Jim Henson’s Workshop… actually, that may not be that surprising.

The meandering path to such a goal is still being trod. I’ve been a university mentor, worked in an autism inclusion unit in a primary school, have been a child minder (a manny!), and was Head of Religious Education and Philosophy in a secondary modern school. 

Whilst not doing these education things, I’ve learnt to create a little peace and quiet by keeping bees.

Is there anything else you would like to add about your experiences at UCL or IOE?

It has been a real privileged in my short time here to meet so many wonderful people.

Last updated 1 April 2023.