Why mythology and autism?

Why mythology and autism?

The idea for this project started to take shape at a meeting in 2008 with a special needs teacher, who mentioned that, in her experience and those of her colleagues, autistic children often enjoy classical myth. I began to wonder why this might be the case, and whether – as a classicist who researches, and loves, classical myth – there was anything I could contribute. I started this blog to report on my progress which was often sporadic until the launch of the Warsaw-based European Research Council-funded project Our Mythical Childhood (2016-21) to trace the role of classics in children’s culture. My key contribution to the project is an exploration of classics in autistic children’s culture, above all by producing myth-themed activities for autistic children. This blog shares my progress, often along Herculean paths.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

It's all Greek to me

While I seek to meet the delivery date for my book for OUP, I anticipate making postings to this blog frustratingly sporadically before, from next autumn, being able to launch myself into the project, aided by some research-led teaching that I am envisaging for Sept-Dec 2009 that will incorporate dramatherapy into a first-year module. In this posting, I’m going to provide some information on how I am considering recasting this module. In one of the nice connections that has been a feature of this research, I’ll also be able here to give information on a session that I am co-organising on the learning experiences of students with autism.

I’m currently recasting the first-year course, which I have taught for several years now, prompted by various factors including my initial forays into dramatherapy that I’ve summarised in previous postings. I’m using the possible new format of this course as the focus for a session that I am preparing in collaboration with a colleague in the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit for this year’s Learning and Teaching conference at Roehampton which takes place late next month.

Ideas, which are still provisional for the autism session, are given below. I’d love feedback in the run-up to the event, which takes place on 28 April.

An increasing number of students with an ASD are coming to University and Classical Civilisation is one of the subjects found appealing to autistic students, for reasons I hope to be able to explore. The session will discuss the role of disability coordinators, tutors, student services and the Classical Civilisation programme in creating an accessible and inclusive learning environment for students with an ASD. Teaching methods pioneered in Classical Civilisation at Roehampton encourage and even expect students to take an active role in the learning process e.g. though group work and oral presentation, a focus which risks alienating autistic students. The session will consider what support might be required to enable successful completion of one of the modules offered to first year students, 'Introduction to the Study of Greek Literature'.

Envisaged module outline:

  • Week 1: Introduction: Why Roehampton? Why Classical Civilisation? [to involve ice breaking session where students introduce themselves to the class]

  • Week 2: What is Greek literature? [to include group discussion: ‘what is the best kind of Greek literature?’]

  • Week 3: What is Greek tragedy [discussion topic: ‘why do we enjoy watching tragedy?’]

  • Week 4: Tragedy and catharsis [including research-led discussion of dramatherapy’s use of Aristotelian theory in reaching autistic people – would this potentially draw in or alienate a student with an ASD?]

  • Weeks 5, 6, 8, 9: sessions on particular tragedies which will combine informal lectures with group discussion of specific passages.

  • Week 10: preparation for the in-class test: to involve group work planning a commentary or essay

  • Week 11: a play reading of one of the set texts, Euripides’ Medea, possibly following methods employed in dramatherapy.

  • Week 12: In-class test.

The session’s title -"‘It’s all Greek to me’: Making learning happen for a Classical Civilisation undergraduate with autism" – aims to get across the bewilderment that can be a feature of initial forays into the study of the classical world. The selected image to accompany this posting, Evelyn de Morgan’s Medea, struck me as getting across the difficulty connected with any attempt at reaching an understanding of Medea, one of the heroines to be discussed during the course, whose unreadability (I may have just made up that word) might perhaps stand for the issues to be raised at the session.

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