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.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Showing, telling and escaping to other worlds: some reflections on a classically-themed show & tell at Cardiff

Robin Diver's Playmobil Egyptian temple
with statue from Roman Coliseum pack on top
The current edition of Your Autism (National Autistic Society, Autumn 2019) includes an interview by an online gamer, QueenE. In response to the question 'What do you do in your spare time besides gaming?' she answers: 'Books and games are my two biggest passions because you can lose yourself in whatever universe you're in. They're like escaping' (p. 26). This posting concerns something similar: the potential, as an autistic person, for losing oneself in an imaginative world - here, the world of classical mythology.

In my previous posting I said that I was about to head off to Cardiff for an event where participants would be showing and telling classical-themed things. I said there that I hoped that the event would help me develop my ideas for a show and tell component for the resources that I am preparing for autistic children. I'll share some ways in which these hopes were realised - and I'll illustrate this posting with some of the artefacts that were shared by participants.

Karen Pierce's show and tell item:
Playmobil Demeter from the recent
Greek Gods series
I shall also follow up on something I mentioned in another recent posting - the one I wrote after an event in Liverpool where I presented on my autism and classical myth activities. As I mentioned in that posting, one of the participants said that she was surprised that the activities focused on myth, that is, something imaginative rather than something 'factual.' 

This comment fits a prevailing view - that autistic people do not have much in the way of an imagination. But - and as QueenE's answer exemplifies - autistic people can have a rich imaginative life. This can be stimulated by video games, and also such areas as fantasy literature, and the area especially relevant to this blog's topic: classical mythology.
I have come away from Cardiff with plenty of ideas relevant to the project. These include the potential for the activities that I am designing to enable the users to get imaginatively involved in myth.
Robin Diver playing with Enuma Elish set created by former student at
Cardiff University for an independent study module. To quote Robin:
"The purple figure is Tiamat and the orange figure Marduk,
so I thought I'd make Tiamat fly at Marduk from above and give her an advantage!"

For one thing, several of the participants had brought along minifigures. This led to a discussion of just how creative children can be when they play with classical-themed minifigures. 

Playmobil Roman soldiers - as used by Kate Gilliver in her
teaching, including to prompt thinking about how ancient
warfare was conducted

Also, prompted by a presentation by Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones about an extraordinary Enuma Elish Fuzzy-Felt pack created by one of his former students, we talked about the potential for Fuzzy-Felt, now out of fashion, to engage children, including in tongue-in-cheek ways. Watch this space for more on this topic whose applicability to the autism and myth activities could be extensive.
Another thing which I want to reflect on and which again came out of the (rich!) discussion prompted by the artefacts is that classical myth plays a part in fan fiction, including in fiction written by young adults. Here, I have learned, the approach of the authors to their material is typically innovative and subversive including in the creation of counter-narratives and though transgendering.

My own show and tell item was a book, Francesca Simon's Helping Hercules, which I took along for several reasons, certain of which bear on my autism and myth project. I'll make these the topic of a subsequent posting so as not to crowd this current one further.

So: there will be more to follow from me on topics raised in this posting. Also, Karen Pierce, who organised the show and tell will be blogging on it. I'll link to her posting once it's out.

1 comment:

Susan Deacy said...

A response from @RobinDiver22 to the above message https://twitter.com/RobinDiver22/status/1162390633291616257

Susan Deacy's fantastic @OMChildhood entry on our #showandtell at @cardiffuni https://myth-autism.blogspot.com/2019/08/showing-telling-and-escaping-to-other.html … @UoRClassics
I've been informed by a Near East specialist that the fuzzy felt figures are based on Ninurta and Anzu, not Marduk and Tiamat as I said of my arragement - whoops!