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, 27 April 2018

HOMEWORK! For: 'At every crossroads' - Introducing a Hercules themed resource pack for use with autistic children

In a few weeks’ time, I shall be heading to Warsaw for a programme of workshops, beginning on 14 May, in connection with the project Our Mythical Childhood. Along with the other speakers, I have been given the opportunity to set pre-event readings and tasks. What I have decided to do is to so set some homework!
Here are the tasks I have set. All are welcome to take part, irrespective of whether you’ll be gathering in Warsaw!

Homework J

I have decided to respond as follows to the option of setting homework ahead of our gatherings in Warsaw.
In preparation for my session – which will take place on the Wednesday – I would like to invite you to read the blog that I write on my work for the ‘autism’ wing of our project: https://myth-autism.blogspot.co.uk/
In particular, I would suggest that you read the postings that I put up during February 2018. These present the activities that I have drafted concerning the Choice of Hercules. The specific links are below.
As optional extra homework, I would like to invite you to join an Academia Session that I set up recently for discussion of the blog and in particular of the Choice of Hercules activities. If you’d like to make any comments here, I would be honoured. Those of you who have already joined the Session (thank you so much) have already completed this part of the homework! The link is: https://www.academia.edu/s/9ee0ea5a76/autism-and-classical-mythology-introducing…-a-set-of-activities-for-use-with-autistic-children-on-the-theme-of-the-choice-of-hercules?source=link

The Choice of Hercules Activities

Preliminary Activity: Choice of Hercules











Susan Deacy, 26.04.18





Thursday, 19 April 2018

Public engagement, autism and 'a pedagogy of hope and empowerment' (Nancy Rabinowitz)

This is a posting that forms a kind of follow-up to the one I put up several weeks ago after a public engagement event at the Institute of Classical Studies in London. I was at the ICS again yesterday, this time for the AGM of the Women’s Classical Committee-UK. Each year, this event seeks to explore an issue, or set of issues, of relevance to UK classicists. This year’s topic was activism, including how far, when classicists in Higher Education engage in outreach and public engagement, this can be as activists.

I have taken a great deal from the event that relates to my practice and indeed to my sense of what it means to be a classicist, and this includes in ways that bear on the topic of this blog and the work I am dong in relation to autism and classical mythology. For now, I am going to reflect on what was said by one of the keynote speakers, Nancy Rabinowitz. (There's more on the specifics of what Nancy said - and how people responded to it - at the twitter hashtag #wccagm18.)

One thing that I have been reflecting on is what Nancy said concerning why we do what we do. There is a particular way of viewing classics, which is that it is enough JUST to do classics – because it supposedly has some ‘transcendent value’ (quoting here my memory of what Nancy said). Rather, Nancy said, any time we engage as classicists in public engagement, we need to consider WHY we are doing it.

Classics is changing. Nancy presented some ways I which change is being effected in the US – and in the UK – and how new voices are being heard from antiquity. Also, as she outlined, new scholarly voices are opening up fresh ways to think about antiquity. And Nancy spoke about the work she is doing in prisons, showing just how much potential there is to take classics to particular publics and to make a difference to people’s lives, including though the ‘liberating power of education’ (again I’m quoting from memory). What Nancy practices is 'a pedagogy of hope and empowerment' where people, including marginalised people, are taken seriously.

With Nancy’s presentation in mind, I have been reflecting on some of the things I am doing. To date, I have spent some time thinking about how much can be gained by encounters with antiquity, including for those whose access to culture can be especially challenging. I am reminded of what Nicola Grove and Keith Park say in the introduction to their activities around the journey of Odysseus – namely that, when they told people they were developing activities around a classical text, a canonical one at that, eyebrows were raised (see here for an earlier blog posting on their work). But they then set out that it is precisely this place of Odysseus and the Odyssey within Western culture that makes them a valuable source for work with disabled people. I would make the same case for Hercules, and I have had a go in several postings to this blog at setting this out, including in the posting I link to earlier in this paragraph.

Nancy said that, by taking classics beyond the university, it is possible to make cultural change. I shall take this message to the next step of my autism and classical myth work – where I shall seek feedback on the resources I’ve drafted to date, and where I shall present them for the fits time in a workshop setting in Warsaw next month.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Autism and Classical Myth Academia Discussion Session

Last week, I did something blog-related though not on this blog. I started an Academia Session – to seek comments on the blog and especially on the activities I put up in February around the Choice of Hercules. It has struck me that I should now do the reverse, namely to direct anyone reading this blog to the Session!

To date, people who have joined the session have raised some really great points, including on the potential for the resources I’m creating for use with adults as well as children. People have been sharing helpful details too. These include details of a centre for autism research in the US with whom I might make contact, and – just this afternoon – a reference to an article on the Choice of Hercules in comparative perspective.

If you would like to join the Session – to read what has been posted to date, and potentially also to contribute to one of the threads – here is the link.

And here is the text that accompanies the Session

Autism and Classical Mythology
Introducing… a set of activities for use with autistic children on the theme of the Choice of Hercules

Approaching a decade ago, my academic life took a new turn. This was after a meeting that I did not expect to have any bearing on my research – or on public engagement, let alone on any impact my research might have beyond the ‘academy.’ The meeting was with a special needs teacher at a secondary school who mentioned one thing that she and her colleagues had noticed – this is that autistic children often respond well to learning about classical mythology.

After the meeting, I kept mulling over this observation and I kept wondering what it was about classical myth that might speak to autistic children. I also started wondering whether there might be anything that I could do to help engage this excitement that autistic children feel for the material. I love classical myth – it found it – it found me - when, ex nihilo, I began reading a book that my grandfather gave me when I was around 10. He would often pick up books for me at jumble sales and summer fayres. I would await his visits wondering whether he had found anything new. A book that he gave me one time was one that I doubt would have interested me at first – I wouldn’t have had any route in. It was Roger Lancelyn Green’s Tales of the Greek Heroes. But I started reading it and went into in a world that was speaking to me and changing me. This interest and love never went away. It remains with me the more I engage with Greek myth – which is my main research interest.

Around ten years ago, after the meeting mentioned above, I started to make some tentative plans for a project around autism and classical myth. I was not sure whether it would go anywhere. But, as I began reading on autism and on specific therapies, notably dramatherapy, and as I started making contacts with relevant specialists I increasingly felt that the project would be worth pursuing – indeed, all I tended to get from others was encouragement.

After several years, something happened that turned what was an ambition to develop materials that might be useful in work with autistic children into something tangible. I became part of a project directed by Professor Katarzyna Marciniak in Warsaw on how the classical world is played out in children’s culture. This project bid for and won European Research Council funding for work with several strands, one of which is the development, by me, of a set of resources for use with autistic children.

The project began in October 2016 and, in February 2018, I completed a first set of resources. This set is made up of a series of activities around an episode in the life of Hercules, a mythological figure whose autistic resonances are especially vibrant. My next step will be to share these activities with various people and I am very open to refining or even reworking them in light of feedback from practitioners and academics and indeed from anyone with interests that bear on the topic.

I have set up this Academia session to share the resources – and to see whether anyone would like to give responses to them at this stage – however brief and initial. The resources are set out in the blog that I set up several months after the meeting with the special needs teacher. If you go to the blog, you will be able to work backwards through the postings. The address is: https://myth-autism.blogspot.co.uk/

The series of (eight) Hercules-themed activities is detailed in postings from February 2018 and there are several postings from before that where I explain the rationale of these activities. If you would like to start at the beginning, then perhaps you might go first to this posting from December 2017. This is the first of several introductions to the activities.

I shall be presenting the activities at a workshop in Warsaw in May 2018 detailed here, in the most recent blog posting I have put up prior to starting this forum. Any comments can shape what I present there over the next month as I prepare this session.

I now await comments!

Susan Deacy, 12 April 2018



Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Introducing a Hercules-themed resource pack for use with autistic children - abstract and venue

With this posting, I am sharing two linked pieces of news. The first is that I have the green light for my title and abstract for the session I shall be delivering in Warsaw next month - as part of a programme of meetings and workshops for the Our Mythical Childhood project.

The second is that the venue for this session has now been confirmed and it is the most ideal one. it will take place at Life is Cool, a café run by autistic people. The image that accompanies this posting is one of several here that captures some of the distinctiveness of the venue. I'm looking forward to visiting the café  - let alone to presenting there.

Here is the title and abstract for the session:

'At every crossroads': introducing a Hercules-themed resource pack for use with autistic children

In the months at the end of 2017 and then in early 2018 I produced a first set of classical myth-related activities for use with autistic children for the Our Mythical Childhood project. In this session, I shall present these resources, which centre round a particular artefact depicting Hercules - a hero with especially rich potential in relation to autism - who is faced with a choice between two divergent paths in life. First I shall explain the rationale and scope of the activities. Then I shall introduce the activities - I envisage this part of the session being interactive.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Poland in blue - and a world you never could have imagined

I would have loved to have been in Warsaw on Tuesday, World Autism Awareness Day, when, in solidarity with autistic people, the Palace of Arts and Culture was lit blue – along with buildings around the world, including the Empire State Building, the CN Tower in Toronto and the Shanghai Tower - there is a series of photographs from round the world here. Katarzyna Marciniak, the Our Mythical Childhood Principal Investigator told me about this yesterday and sent me the link to this newspaper report on the initiative. The report also sets out a key message from this year’s campaign, namely that autism is for life, rather than something that only effects children.

People do not outgrow autism. And what the newspaper report reflects is something that I have reflected on as well over the time I have been writing this blog – and making gradual progress towards realising my dream of creating resources that might be used by autistic children. Autism isn’t something from which someone can be cured. As Jim Sinclair said – I’ve quoted Jim Sinclair several times previously on this blog! – it is not that autism is something a person ‘has’ – there isn’t some ‘normal child hidden behind the autism.’ Indeed, ‘it is not possible to separate the autism from the person.’[1]

I am not developing resources geared towards helping children somehow outgrow autism – rather the resources are geared towards creating a gateway between two ‘worlds.’ As Jim Sinclair also says, whenever an autism person manages to ‘function at all’ in a non-autistic society, they are ‘operating in alien territory, making contact with alien beings.’ One thing I am seeking to do is to create space for autistic people to operate in a non-autistic world, and also for non-autistic people to gain a glimpse into a different way of being and of relating – into, as Sinclair put it, ‘a world you never could have imagined.’

In the next posting, I am planning to introduce a different image from the ‘gateway’ one – the image of the crossroads. This is an image I am planning on using to frame the paper that I shall be giving next month in Warsaw. Once I’ve had the green(blue…)light  for this from my colleagues, I shall share the title and abstract.

[1] Jim Sinclair, “Don’t Mourn for Us.” Autism Network International (ANI) website, http://www.autreat.com/dont_mourn.html (last accessed 31.07.17), originally published in Our Voice 1.3 (1993).