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.

Monday, 1 July 2019

I'm about to be speaking on Hercules as the subject of activities for autistic girls - here I begin to explain why

This week, something significant happens in UK Classics – the conference run jointly by the CA (Classical Association) and FIEC (Fédération internationale des associations d’études classiques) begins in London. This is possibly – I haven’t checked but it’s quite likely – the biggest classical conference that has ever taken place in the UK. My University, Roehampton, is one of the hosts alongside other London colleges/universities. I have been involved in organising a panel, on eros in antiquity and in receptions of antiquity. And I’m also taking part in two events where I’ll present work on autism and classical myth.
One is a workshop where participants can drop by to find out about various attempts at ‘diversifying public engagement’ to quote the session’s title. I am currently getting ready for this session by preparing, above all, multi-sensory aspects as this is something that, since my paper at CAMWS in April, I have felt encouraged to develop. This will take place on Friday of this week.
Hercules: epitome of masculine strength?
Jean Baptiste Borkens (1611-1675), The Apotheosis of Hercules
Then, on Sunday, I take part in a panel along with Lisa Maurice, Robin Diver and Sonya Nevin, all of whom I collaborate with for Our Mythical Childhood. Our topic is on classical receptions for girls, and what I shall be doing is something that might sound problematic. I shall be discussing an act of reception that I am involved in, namely to create resources that adapt episodes involving Hercules for autistic children, including autistic girls.
Why this is problematic potentially is as follows. Hercules can be read as the least-likely figure for activities for girls. This is something that I am struck by currently while writing my chapter for the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Heracles, edited by Daniel Ogden, which is including an exploration into a pattern where, notably in the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women, the strength of the hero takes a sexual dimension when his force his used against a series of women.
However – and this is a topic that I am expecting to come up in the panel – when classical myth is adapted for children, the adapters make particular interventions, for example to change a certain ending. Or they are selective in what they pick from ancient sources and earlier receptions - by not picking an episode involving sexual violence for example, or by playing down coercive aspects, or even by presenting a young woman as consenting to what happens to her. This seems notably the case where the abduction of Persephone is concerned, as Robin will I think discuss.
I am going to be discussing activities for autistic girls – so girls of an age which would make certain aspects of what Hercules does especially inappropriate: inappropriate, that is, if Hercules is to be used in any way as a motivating figure. However, what I am going to argue is that Heracles has potential to speak to autistic people, any autistic people.

I’ll explain why soon – hopefully tomorrow… Watch this space…


1 comment:

Susan Deacy said...

Do keep watching this space! I'm now hoping to get part 2 finished on *Wednesday*. The afternoon's blogging I'd planned turned into an afternoon of programme admin...