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.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Presenting Our Mythical Childhood at Roehampton - June 2019

After the series of postings I put out in April and May, I'm aware that June has been quiet blogging-wise until today. This isn't out of a lack of activity relevant to autism and classical myth. For example, I've written a proposal for a book on the Choice of Hercules activities - this is now with the first-choice publisher. I've also been planning activities for a public engagement workshop in London next month as well as two papers: one in London and one in Liverpool. More to follow on these events.

This current posting concerns one other thing I've done recently. Last week - on Wednesday 19th June - I presented the Our Mythical Childhood project to Professor Jean-Noël Ezingeard, the new Vice Chancellor of the University of Roehampton. This was as part of a series of short (just 5-minute!) reports on research projects in Humanities at the University. What follows is a written-up version of my notes, along with some of the images and links from the accompanying PowerPoint presentation.

It my pleasure to share details about Our Mythical Childhood, a research project I have been involved with for over two and a half years now. It is over half-way though, funded by the European Research Council. It is ambitious, pioneering and global, and it is also very much rooted in many ways in Roehampton: in its research culture in Classics and other disciplines including Children’s Literature; its resources including the Children’s Literature collection in the library; and – also – its campus, including the Adam Room.

Chimneypiece panel, Adam Room, Grove House, Roehampton
Photo: Marina Vorobieva
The project, which is exploring the place of Classics in children’s and young adult culture, is part of a growing field and one which we are ourselves involved in nurturing.

One of the key growth areas in Classics over the last couple of decades is classical reception. And, recently, this has generated a subfield (or sub-sub field) of classical reception in children’s culture. A few years ago, several of us teamed up under the leadership of Professor Katarzyna Marciniak of the Faculty of Artes Liberales at the University of Warsaw and applied – successfully – for a Horizon 2020 grant. The project began in October 2016, so this coming autumn we will reach our 3rd anniversary.

Preparing to present autism and myth/history
workshop at the Polish Theatre, Warsaw, May 2019
I am the Roehampton Principal Investigator and I work alongside colleagues with comparable roles at the other beneficiary institutions: Bar Ilan University in Israel, the University of New England in Australia, and the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon.

Lisa Maurice and myself launching ACCLAIM at
Warsaw, May 2019
ACCLAIM - along with its initial set of logos:
as Lisa said at the launch, there is space for more...
Key activities include workshops, conference and books around three themes: Hope (the subject of our 2017 meetings), History (for which we gathered last month in Warsaw) and Nature (for which we will meet again in 2020).
We are also undertaking investigations into the place of mythology in classics curricula across the world (led by Lisa Maurice at Bar Ilan), into classics in children’s literature (led by Liz Hale at New England) and into mythology in villages in Cameroon (led by Daniel Daniel Nkemleke
at Yaoundé). At Roehampton, Sonya Nevin and Steve Simons are producing a series of vase animations building on their Panoply project.

The key thing I’m doing is producing a set of activities using classical myth for autistic children around the myth of Hercules who ‘speaks’ particularly well to autistic children. The activities are based around the eighteenth-century chimneypiece panel in the Adam Room over in Grove House which is illustrated in the photo montage I showed earlier. Lisa Maurice and I launched the network ACCLAIM: Autism Connecting with Classically Inspired Myth at the gathering in Warsaw last month.

We are also – as a team – producing a survey of works of children’s and young adult culture in some way inspired by classical themes. This is involving a team of authors including Roehampton colleagues and research students. Each six-month period, Roehampton and the other institutions produce thirty new entries, all double peer-reviewed. Last week saw us reach a milestone of 750 entries.
The survey – along with others of our activities, including my autism and myth blog – exemplifies our commitment to immediate dissemination.

It is a pleasure to be part of the project – which aims to make a difference to classical research and to the lives of children – and already is making such a difference.