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.

March-April 2020

Here is what I am planning to do over several postings this Spring – to straddle Autism Awareness Week in early April. Lately, I have been overhauling my chapter for Mythical Hope, the first of the books from the ERC-funded Our Mythical Childhood project. It was presenting Hope-themed material in the autumn of 2019 that got me to look in new ways at what I had previously written. Here I put my project again under an aegis of Hope, and I’d welcome feedback!

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.

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