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, 28 September 2018

Autism and classical myth event with experts - about to happen

A while back I shared some really good news I'd received namely that I'd gained some funding from the Institute of Classical Studies - from their Public Engagement Fund - for a workshop with autism experts. The event in question is about to happen! On Tuesday 2 October! I'm going to be welcoming a group of specialists, including those whose work has been foundational to my project on autism and classical myth, to Roehampton and specially to the Adam Room, the home of the chimneypiece which is the focus of my first set of resources for autistic children. I'll be writing a report on the event for the ICS - and also a post for their blog. I aim to do this asap after the event to capture it's energy and I'll share the link via this blog. I'm so excited to be sharing what I've been developing with a group of wonderful people. To think - we'll all be together talking about autism and myth - with Hercules making his choice in our presence. I'm so deeply grateful to the ICS supporting and enabling the event.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Staging the upturned world: A Midsummer Night's Dream for autistic children

In June, I broke the news - here - that myself and colleagues had been successful in our application to host events for the 2018 Being Human Festival. I included the following piece of information:

"With the most explicit fit with my autism and classical mythology project...we will be working with the Flute Theatre, who will stage an immersive performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for children on the autistic spectrum. I’ll say more on this in due course, including where I write about who the Flute are and about the work they do."

Here - now - I'll say some more as promised. The Flute Theatre is a troupe of actors who, led by the Kelly Hunter, stage productions of Shakespeare for autistic audiences. We'll be collaborating with them during their run of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, London, from (and whence the photo at the head of this posting) 5-24 November 2018.

The collaboration will be as follows - along with two colleagues, Drs Helen Slaney and Susanne Greenhalgh, I'll be taking part in a participatory workshop at the Orange Tree in the morning before one of the performances -  on 23 November. Kelly Hunter will introduce the techniques she uses with her audiences - and she will show how and why they've been such a success.

To quote from the blurb on our booking site (link below):
Shakespeare is often regarded as linguistically challenging and culturally elitist, but this does not have to be the case when the plays are performed. Approaching "A Midsummer Night's Dream" from a non-neurotypical perspective gives an extra dimension to its upturned world of magic, mischief, delusions, and desires. Flute Theatre's approach taps into the multisensory undercurrents of dramatic literature, making this workshop at the same time a fascinating exploration of theatrical practice.

If you'll be in or near London in November and would like to join us, there's more information here, including on how to book. I'll be blogging on it as well...


Friday, 21 September 2018

Turning classical myth into a learning opportunity for autistic children - in Lincoln, Nebraska

Several of my postings over recent months have included prominent buildings in cities around the world - always for a reason that is, somehow, relevant to this blog. This particular posting kicks off with a photograph of one of the landmarks of Lincoln, Nebraska - the State Capitol. Here's why this particular city is, now, of relevance to my blog.

For just over a month I have been hoping - and itching - to share the following proposal for a conference paper. It's for a panel on "Learning Disabilities in the Classics Classroom" organised by Clara Bosak-Schroeder and Krishni Burns for the 2019 CAMWS (Classical Association of the Middle West and South) conference to be held in Lincoln.

I sent off my abstract around the middle of last month and have recently received the news that the panel has been accepted!

After lots of correspondence with US-based people for some years now in relation to my autism and mythology project, I'm very much looking forward to this opportunity to talk, in the US, about what I'm doing and planning.

Here, then, is my proposal.  

What would Hercules do? Turning classical myth into a learning opportunity for autistic children

Elitism runs deep in classics. Yet classics is changing, including through the work of democratically-minded classicists who are to seeking to surmount the structural and historical factors that perpetuate classics as a subject that excludes particular groups. This paper will concern a project I have developed to bring classics to a particular public: autistic children.

I shall briefly introduce the rationale behind my project, which I began after a meeting in 2008 with a Special Needs teacher who told me that, in the experience of herself and her colleagues, autistic children engage especially well with learning about an aspect of the classical world, namely its myths. I began thinking that this might be the case, and, then, started to wonder how I could contribute as a classicist whose key interest is in classical myth. My academic life was transformed from this moment, leading, for instance to a role as a disability co-coordinator and a blogger: https://myth-autism.blogspot.com/. Indeed, my paper will include a brief recommendation of blogging: for immediate dissemination of research, for reaching a wider public, and for the opportunity to develop a more reflective voice to complement the traditional, results-focused, voice that dominates academic writing.
Above all, I shall discuss the first of three sets of activities that I have developed to encourage autistic children to negotiate issues that, challenging for any child, can be especially difficult for those with autism. These activities centre around Hercules, a figure who, I shall show, has particularly rich potential to engage autistic ways of thinking and being. The activities are part of a European Research Council-funded project Our Mythical Childhood: The Reception of Classical Antiquity in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture in Response to Regional and Global Challenges  http://www.omc.obta.al.uw.edu.pl/  (2016-2021).
The activities centre on the choice that Hercules is invited to make at a crisis point, when, on arriving at a strange place, he encounters two women who represent divergent paths in life.  As I shall show, the activities (eight in total) take the user through the episode: from the arrival at a strange place, to noticing certain things about the place, to noticing the two women. There are activities where users reflect on what the hero might be experiencing in his interactions with each woman. There are also activities which shift the perspective to the two women – and on how they seek to engage him. Then, finally, users move to the hero’s choice. As I shall show, Hercules chooses one path – yet he considers the other path as well. There is rich potential here for exploring different perspectives on a given issue.
Each path, as I shall show, will lead to a particular kind of future, one involving a life of pleasure, the other a life of struggle. Each user of the resources can choose a particular path – and they can do this by thinking about what Hercules would do, potentially helping themselves develop a theory of mind. Or they can make their own choice, and thus think about how their present can turn into the future.
As I shall set out, each activity is accompanied by educational goals which will help teachers decide which activity to use according to their goals and their students' abilities. These are divided in relation to the revised version of Bloom's Taxonomy of 'cognitive,' and 'affective,' goals, while a third part deals with the students’ social skills and how these are promoted through the activities.
I shall then share the outcome of a workshop, held autumn 2018, with specialists in autism research to seek expert feedback on the activities. When I come to market these resources more widely, the collaboration and endorsement of these professionals will be integral. I hope, too, that they will take up these resources for use in a therapeutic context.
After this, I shall discuss a pilot study of the activities with pupils aged 5-11 in a specialist autistic unit in a London state primary school. I shall end by outlining my plans for further pilot studies.
The Hercules activities I have developed are intended to be inclusive and thought-provoking – and fun. They offer an opportunity for autistic children to think about such matters as how to cope with new scenarios and change, and how to engage in decision-making. They also offer a gateway to classics for those whose access to shared aspects of culture can be particularly challenging.

Work cited
Anderson, L.W. et al. (ed.) 2001. A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives. Pearson.