Why classical myth and autism?

Why classical myth 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.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Making learing happen for a student with Asperger syndrome

Here, following up on my previous posting, is the abstract submitted for the 2009 Roehampton
University Learning and Teaching Conference.

‘It’s all Greek to me’:
Making learning happen for a Classical Civilisation undergraduate with Asperger Syndrome

Susan Deacy, School of Arts
Bridget Middlemas, Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit

The session’s title aims to get across the bewilderment that can be a feature of initial forays into the study of Humanities subjects. During the past decade or so, an increasing number of students with disabilities have entered higher education, including those with Asperger syndrome (AS). AS is an autistic spectrum condition, which can result in often subtle differences in aspects of social behaviour, communication and application of mental flexibility. It is more common in male students (Brown & Miller, 2004; Martin, 2008).

Humanities subjects, Classical Civilisation included, are among the programmes found appealing to many autistic students. The session will discuss the various challenges faced by disability coordinators, tutors, student services and the programme team in creating an accessible and inclusive learning environment for students with AS, and also reflect on the student experience from the viewpoint of such students. 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'.

The module outline will be discussed in the light of ensuring that sessions are able to address the learning needs of all students in the group. What is the most effective way for us to ensure that the learning outcomes have been met? How will the students’ voices be heard? Is there anything that we might do differently? Good practice guidelines will also be made available for review:

  • an explanation of Asperger syndrome/autistic spectrum disorder

  • what might be done before the student starts the course

  • promoting independent learning and study

  • how the learning environment affects an individual's ability to learn

  • a social needs checklist for students with autism

  • a realistic approach to academic/learning needs

  • coursework and examination issues (after NAS, 2009; Jamieson & Jamieson, 2004)


Brown, M. and Miller, A., 2004, Aspects of Asperger’s: success in the teens and twenties. Bristol: Lucky Duck Publishing

Jamieson, J. and Jamieson, C., 2004, Managing Asperger syndrome at college and university. London: David Fulton Publishers

Martin, N 2008 REAL Services to assist students who have Asperger Syndrome, Sheffield Hallam University Autism Centre, available from SKILL at http://www.skill.org.uk/page.aspx?c=61&p=150#HE

National Autistic Society (NAS), 2009, University – How to support students with Asperger syndrome available at: http://www.autism.org.uk/nas/jsp/polopoly.jsp?d=1011&a=12205

The image at the head of this posting shows a Roman fresco showing Alcestis and Admetus: alcesti_e_admeto.JPG/200px-Affreschi_romani_-_pompei_-_alcesti_e_admeto.JPG