Yesterday, I blogged on the first of two workshops I ran in Warsaw last week as part of the 2019 programme of events for the Our Mythical Childhood project. Today, and in the hours before I leave a city that’s become like a second home, I am blogging on the second workshop. This was held on Thursday (May 23) in the Polish Theatre to a wide-ranging audience. This audience included the participants from the conference, themselves a mixture of academics and students from many countries. Also present were the high school students and their teachers who had earlier on presented their project on Polish historical figures who shaped, or who were in some way shaped by, the classical tradition. I was delighted when I learnt that the founder and manager of Life is Cool, the café staffed by autistic people where I’d presented the earlier workshop was also going to be present.
As with my posting about the Life is Cool workshop, what follows is drawn from the notes that I took along with me. The posting is accompanied with artwork produced during the workshop, starting here with Anna Mik's. I’ll say more about this at the end.
Today I will share with you some activities that I am creating for autistic children – and you get to have a go. What you’ll do can’t be the same as in the sessions with autistic children – because here we have just half an hour. But I hope to give a flavour of what the children will do.
This workshop is building on a session on Tuesday of this week in Life is Cool, a café staffed by autistic adults. The focus of this workshop, Making Choices, has been inspired by my discussion with one of the café staff who took part in the workshop – more on this later.
When you receive your handout and some pencils, start colouring in. Also use the orange highlighter in your conference pack if you would like. The drawing on the handout is the artefact on which the activities are based. It looks ancient, but it is actually from the eighteenth century, from a villa in Roehampton in London, and so it constitutes an instance of eighteenth-century classical receptions to add to those from Poland that we heard about earlier today.
Colouring in is key to engaging with the activities and with its key figure, Hercules, who has reached a strange place. There is lush vegetation on one side and a rocky landscape on the other side. Two women, or goddesses appear, each representing one side of the scene, and they task Hercules with making a choice, between a life of pleasure on the one hand and a life of hard work with eventual rewards on the other.
The colouring in you’re perhaps doing: one reason for this is to encourage you to LOOK. There are lots of details at the scene, some of which can be missed on first glance (the serpent on top of the helmet for instance, or some of the drinking vessels). This is one thing that makes the image potentially relevant for autistic children, for whom processing information can be a challenge, especially in a new situation. There can be a multi-sensory dimension to this, encompassing sight, and sound and touch. And colouring in can help engage with this, including by letting anyone grasp just how overloading the new place is.
And this is all the more case in relation to Hercules, who has an excellent fit with autism, as those of you who were also at the workshop on Tuesday heard me set out. For instance, nothing is easy for him. Hercules keeps having to learn rules afresh. He is able to do things that others cannot though his strength and cunning, yet he experiences what can look like overload – and as a result he sometimes carries out acts of violence.
Have a look at how he is depicted on the image. Is he being thoughtful as he is trying to make his choice? Is he in shutdown? If the latter, this isn’t to say that he isn’t feeling anything – it could be that he is feeling lots of things, lots of emotions, all at once. I’ve heard being autistic as like a recurrent panic attack, including coming out of needing to process lots of information in one go.
The activities are seeking to deal with two key things. Firstly – fitting with what I’ve just been describing - they are concerned with understanding, regulating and communicating emotions. Secondly, they are concerned with making choices. Making choices can likewise be a challenge for autistic people, whether the decision is over something ‘big’ or something ‘small’, for example what to have for dinner.
There are four stages in the activities, which are designed for children aged 7-11 but can be adapted for older or younger children, namely:
- Where next? (how the present turns into the future)
In the workshop in Life is Cool on Tuesday, we focused on emotions. Today, I’ve decided to move the focus to choices. This is in response, in part, to the colleague from the café who took part in the workshop with whom I had a great discussion about what choice Hercules would have made.
The activity falls into three parts:
- Creative activity
If we had more time, we could all have a go at trying out the activity; for now, however, I’ll talk you though the various stages, though I will also give you a brief opposite to have a go at doing some aspects of the task.
Story: here we get to the point where Hercules makes a choice between the two paths in life.
Discussion: here the participants think about a time when they had to make a difficult choice, however ‘big’ or ‘small’ this might appear to be. Indeed, have a quick think yourselves about a difficult choice you’ve made. It could be something like whether to accept a job offer; or it could be what you chose to have for breakfast this morning, or were you decided to sit in this room.
Creative activity: Based on what you’ve coloured in, and based on the discussion activity, what choice do you think that Hercules makes? Put a tick by the side you think he chooses, or a smiley face perhaps. Tell me – perhaps via email – what you decided. And note that there is no correct answer. Hercules is the great doer of hard work. Hercules is also recurrently depicted as a great lover of the pleasures of life. This lack of a right or wrong answer points to one further reason why I’ve picked this particular episode – whichever path people choose can lead to a further engagement with Hercules…
What I’ve not yet blogged on is how much I gained from the feedback from participants afterwards including from the manager of Life is Cool. I understand, too, that one of the schools who took part have shared their colouring in via social media. I’ll link to that in a later posting.
The artwork accompanying this posting was done by two of the participants: Anna Mik and Giacomo Savani. Anna’s spin on the Choice adds a stunningly unexpected third voice to those who are tasking Hercules with making his choice. Giacomo has animalised - as wild cats - the three human-like figures.
The present turns to the future: I’ll end with this segue. The work of both Anna and Giacomo anticipates the topic of our next gathering, in May 2020, on the theme of Mythical Nature.