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.

Monday, 14 February 2022

Why Classical Myths can Chime with Autistic Experiences - public lecture this week

I'll soon be blogging in earnest again - it's been all-go here including with autism and myth-linked activities. I'll update this blog once a few details are finalised! 

But, first, let me share details of a public lecture I'm seriously looking forward to giving later this week for the Cultures of Disability Network and Manchester Classical Association (Wednesday 16th February, 1-2pm UK time)! Details follow from the Network website including on how to book...

Professor Susan Deacy will be delivering a public lecture via Zoom, with BSL interpretation, on Wednesday 16 February 1pm-2pm. Register HERE

Prof Susan Deacy will talk about her work with young people with autism, using classical mythology and the experiences and perceptions it highlights. This talk is free, online, and open to all.

Prof Deacy is the co-founder of ACCLAIM (Autism Connecting with Classically Inspired Mythology Network), established in 2019, and is Professor of Classics at Roehampton University.

This is a joint lecture between Cultures of Disability (Manchester Met University) and Manchester Classical Association is a volunteer-run association which brings together researchers, teachers, students, pupils and the interested public, to share our enthusiasm for the classical world and its relevance in a 21st century global and diverse world. We host regular public lectures, student workshops, teacher training support sessions and materials, and children’s events and competitions. Many of our talks are recorded on our YouTube channel. Contact: Dr April Pudsey.

Tuesday, 21 December 2021

Outstanding 'autism' book for young people match no. 4 - Planet Earth is Blue

With this posting, I am continuing live-blogging about the IBBY catalogue of recent books ‘for’ disabled young people. I’ve put the ‘for’ in inverted comma because I am quoting from the title of the Catalogue, but also to signal that I’m not sure whether the books are in fact ‘for’ disabled young people, not the ones whose evaluations I’ve read so far...

I am quite far down, so would expect not many more matches. I got as far last time as noting the next match, to one with a title which looks to be quoting from David Bowie’s Space Oddity, to a book, again from 2019, and this time from the US:

Panteleakos, Nicole (text) Planet Earth Is Blue, New York, USA: Wendy Lamb Books, 2019 [233pp.] ISBN 978-0-525-64657-0

My initial thoughts give the title are firstly that the book might concern autism as – commonly (I’ve written about this recently myself) - expressed as a specific ‘world’ - either a single ‘planet autism’ or as a world distinct to, and inhabited by, any single autistic person. The ‘blue’ meanwhile suggests the colour often used for autism (I’m not sure why autism is blue... it’s time I looked into this…).

The space reference turns out, I’m gathering from the evaluation, to concern an autistic girl called Nora who is waiting for the Challenger launch in the mid 1980s, with the Challenger countdown paralleled with the ten days while Nora waits for the arrival of her older sister who is a vital presence in her life. The impending Challenger disaster, too, looks to be paralleled with Nora’s own life via the letters that Nora, who is non-verbal, writes to her sister.

Nora’s autism, we are told, is “accurately portrayed” - against which criteria it isn’t stated - with “traits of OCD, stimming, sensory issues and overactive imagination woven seamlessly into her character “ (p. 38).

According to the evaluator, “Parents and teachers seeking books for middle school students to build empathy will find this gripping read an excellent choice.” The sense I have been getting as I have read the entries on earlier books in the catalogue is coming though if anything more strongly with this currently entry – namely a sense of an evaluator or evaluators who are non-autistic and assuming non-autistic readers. There is something missing, namely an autistic perspective or a sense that the books could be for autistic readers in addition to non-autistic readers who seek to understanding autistic lives and experiences.

There is, therefore, a mismatch between the title of the Catalogue - 2021 IBBY Selection of Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities – and the books concerning autism whose evaluations I have looked at so far.

There is another match! To a book that, like Planet Earth is Blue looks like it might also concern a non-verbal person. The title is Talking Is Not My Thing!  I’ll get to it as soon as I can mark out ‘space’…

Monday, 20 December 2021

"Outstanding books" about autism Part 3: Funny - you don't look autistic

For a couple of weeks now I have been live-blogging as I work though matches for ‘autism’ in IBBY’s guide to “outstanding books” for disabled young people.

@omchildhood tweet promoting the previous posting

Since the previous posting, I have come to feel confirmed in my thinking that live-blogging could be a thing – from reading the draft of a blog by a student I’m currently teaching who has started, excitingly, live-blogging scholarship relevant to the particular mythological topic she is investigating.

As I mentioned in the previous posting, the next match – to something in English – has an attention-grabbing title of Funny, you don’t look autistic. It’s Canadian, again from 2019, by a stand-up comedian, Michael McCeary:

McCreary, Michael (text), Funny, You Don’t Look Autistic Toronto, Canada: Annick Press, 2019 [176pp.] ISBN 978-1-77321-257-9

It’s the first of the matches to be a work of non-fiction: it is presented in the evaluation as “a mix of life story and facts about the subject he knows best – autism” (p.36). It tells about the author’s experiences, for example with bullies, along with what are described as “information sidebars”.

The evaluator concludes by telling the potential reader “what will stick in your mind is a fuller understanding of living life in a different way” (p.36 again). So – the evaluation, though perhaps not the book, is assuming a non-autistic reader wanting to understand an autistic experience. It is not clear if the book is for adults, or children, or for autistic or non-autistic readers.

There is a potential mismatch, then, between the possible readership imagined by the IBBY evaluator and the title of the guide which refers to books “for” disabled young people (emphasis added).

I’ve just done a very quick search for the author. According to what I have found out, he is in his twenties, was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome when aged 5, and – according to the webpage from a the Kingston WritersFest, where he performed in 2019, seeks to address, in his words “the lighter side of Asperger’s” while doing something serious, via comedy as “the only medium…that can turn a perceived disability into a weapon.” It sounds from this very quick and initial dive that the author might very well do his stand-up routines with non-autistic people in mind, though I’m not sure yet. 

The next match – I’d wondered whether there would be another one as I am now quite far down the catalogue – again has a sticking, this time a Bowie-esque, title: Planet Earth is Blue. I’ll get to it as soon as I can – hopefully tomorrow…


Tuesday, 14 December 2021

More live-blogging “outstanding books” for autistic young people - Part 2: This is my life

My last posting explained why I’ve decided to try something different blogging wise, namely what I’m terming (possibly reinventing the wheel!) “live blogging”. I must check…

Since then I’ve had encouraging feedback including my Myths and Mythology class, and… so… here’s Part 2.

In the first posting, I ran though the evaluation of the first entry that concerns "autism" in IBBY’s catalogue of “outstanding books” for disabled young people, namely IA uchus v chetvertom KRO (My special education class, grade 4). I ended by saying that I’d found the next match, to a book in Swedish translated into English as This is my life.

Image copied over from previous posting -
taken from @omchildhood announcing IBBY's catalogue

Here are the full details: Lagercrantz, Rose (text) Furmark, Annelie (ill.), Detta är mitt liv (This is my life) Stockholm, Sweden: Bonnier Carlsen Bökforlag, 2019 [112pp.] ISBN 978-91-7803-333-1

This book, unlike the previous one, focuses on a single child, a girl, called Sophia. A girl! So this book might fit the current move to recognise girls as autistic not least when so many women are diagnosed only as adults. 

The girl, Sophia, the evaluation states, is about to turn 14 and “has always felt different” from the other children at her summer camp, either because of “typical teen insecurity” or “because she is autistic” (p. 35 – all quotations from the entry will be from this page).

The focus, I’m told, is on emotions Sophia feels as she prepares to convey to her fellow children at the camp what it is like to be her. The evaluation states that the format, a graphic novel, can aid in conveying the “emotions and reactions” of the characters, including Sophia’s mother.

So – a couple of things to note.

One is that, the book deals with how an autistic girl conveys what it is like to experience life as she does to other people. I am assuming non-autistic other people.

Also, as I’ve noted, the evaluation states that the graphic focus can provide a useful tool to convey emotions - but for whom I wonder: autistic young readers? or neurotypical young readers to help them understand autistic peers? adults like Sophia’s mother. Ah here is the possible answer, from the conclusion to the entry, which states that the book will “resonate not only with teens on the autistic spectrum, but also with any teen who has worried about fitting in”.

I think I like this – non-autistic people can learn from autistic people’s experience. It is not just the other way round...

The next match – to something in English, has an attention-grabbing title of Funny you don’t look autistic. I’ll live blog it as soon as I can!  I’m at just over 400 words which is fine I think for a blog entry – though I do often go longer! – in any case…

Thursday, 9 December 2021

Live blogging IBBY’s books for disabled young people - part 1… IA uchus v chetvertom KRO (My special education class, grade 4)

Live blogging IBBY’s books for disabled young people - part 1…  IA uchus v chetvertom KRO (My special education class, grade 4)

Thanks to my Our Mythical Childhood colleagues, I have just found out about IBBY – the International Board on Books for Young People. And, more specifically, and in line with this blog’s topic, I have found out about their selection – annotated – of recent “outstanding books for young people with disabilities”.

As I write I am about to search for the key word ‘autism’ to see if anything comes up. And...

...There are 12 matches for ‘autism’ starting with a book, in Russian, a short novel from 2019 called – in the English translation which, I assume, is IBBY’s – My special education class, grade 4.

Full details: Belenkova, Kseniya (text) Khramtsov, Alexander (ill.)
IA uchus v chetvertom KRO (My special education class, grade 4), Moscow: Meshcheryakov, 2019 [88pp.] ISBN 978-5-00108-355-9

I’m now going to adapt ‘live tweeting’ with some ‘live blogging’ where I work though the matches. I’m not sure how many books will come up, so I don’t know how much there will be to blog on. I might well blog on one book at a time. I don’t know yet!

I’ll look up what ‘Grade 4’ means in the Russian education system. As an aside, first I shall mention the sense of curiosity and excitement I am feeling at the prospect of doing something I really need to do more – namely to learn more about non-anglophone works for children, especially when, as I have stressed in relation to the current autism and myth project, I very much hope to reach across borders, of various kinds.

 The novel – from the evaluator’s summary – offers perspectives of several children in the class, each of whom considers their classmates to be “strange” (p.28 – all quotations will be from this page). The evaluator likes how the book focuses on each child as an individual: “each one” they say “is unique and deserves to be heard.” The focus is, I’m reading, the classroom, but I’m told too the book also deals with issues outside school including some difficult home situations. 

I am not sure what ages of readers are intended. But at least I shall finally look up what “Grade 4” means. I put “Education in Russia” into the search engine – and, a bit worryingly, doing this threw up hits for Special Education in Russia, which I hadn’t asked for.

 Ah – the “Grade 4’ seems to be a translation of the North American grade system, so refers to ages 9-10.

Oh I never said, as part of what looks to be the book’s emphasis on children as individuals before any disability, it is never said what the disabilities are though the evaluator says that “This would likely be autism along with other disabilities.” One follow up question I have, then, is how often do children know – around the world – that they are for example, neurodivergent or autistic, or have been diagnosed as such? If they are not told, what might it mean for them, at some later point, to learn of this?

Anyway, now to look for the next match – it’s for a book in Swedish again from 2019, called in the English translation This is My Life. I’ll blog about it after a break, during which I need to get on with a few other things…