Imagining Autism at Psi 18: Leeds, June 2012

At the end of a very busy six months of interventions in two schools, the iA team took the van, and the space environment to Leeds to present a Shift – a practical demonstration of our work in progress. This was our first experience of taking the iA project on the road (building on our experience of the pilot project for Health Acts at Exeter) and was an opportunity to rehearse for the proposed national tour in 2013.

Leeds provided us with excellent facilities and a brilliant technical team. The space environment looked stunning and we were able to mount a foyer display and to screen footage from all the environments, beautifully put together by Melanie Wood. Delegates spent time before and after the installation, looking at the display and were clearly absorbed and moved by the project materials. The Space environment looked stunning and our visitors (mostly international) were as it  turned out, very happy to play….

In many ways the thought of  inviting a groups of  academics into the pod was very daunting- even if they were at a performance  conference consisting of lecturers and professors  who can be usually trusted to throw themselves in.  As it turned out there were no problems in engaging with the visitors, who were taken in small groups through the space adventure, just as the  children would   be. From take off, via the  Planet of the Shadows, to landing on the moon, there was a  delicate and sensitive response by participants that relaxed  into full blown  play with the alien and her moon rocks, with the  alien (who has the ability to  grow  very tall on her elastic legs) silently teasing about height and (academic)status.  There was perhaps  a little  less  actual making of puppets, and the interactions were more sophisticated in some  ways (the alien  turned out to have an unexpected and surpising ability to flirt!) but the essence of the experience was pure  play: sustained and enjoyable.

Nicki Shaughnessy and Melissa Trimingham talked about the project at a panel presentation by Kent’s research centre for Cognition, Kinesthetics and Performance.  Their paper discussed the ‘value’ of the project (in terms of efficacy and economics), considering the methods of evaluation they have developed through their collaboration with psychologists as well as exploring some of the issues involved in funding practice based research. They presented alongside colleagues Rosemary Klich and Pablo Pakula who spoke about their related experiences of participatory performance projects in the context of CKP. The panel had a full house (an achievement at such a large conference) and audience members tweeted  very positive feedback afterwards.

The project team celebrated the end of term and the first six months with a Leeds curry and we are now on vacation until the start of the Autumn term in September when the project moves to the Helen Allison School in Meopham.