Now that the practical interventions are completed and the project embarks upon the touring phase, the team have been working to collect feedback from as many sources as possible to see how the project has affected the participants and audiences who have come into contact with the work through involvement in the workshop programme, public engagement events, such as “The Funny Thing About Autism”, or the numerous conference presentations and demonstrations (which frequently feature Foxy and Dennis the woodpecker). We have collated some of the feedback below.
The assessment of children who may have autism is complex and any new tool to aid this process is very exciting. The techniques involved in Imagining Autism show great potential to aid young people with autism to communicate and develop their imagination. It would be hoped this would be generalized to improve communication and interaction in family and carers.
The project has shown that use of these experimental environments can help autistic children to show skills that are not apparent in clinics or classrooms.
This allows a more detailed picture to be created around children’s needs. It has highlighted the need to consider all venues to assess children so that we have a really clear picture of autistic children’s abilities and maybe identify how they may be supported at school and at home. ……I am aware that some parents have been able to see their children do things in the environment that they have never seen before, and that some have become more communicative following the experience in the environment .
Dr Yvonne Parks, Consultant Paediatrician, Kent and Canterbury NHS Trust
Firstly, I would like to thank you and your team for choosing our school for your Imagining Autism workshops. The sessions were a huge success for a number of different reasons-
- The approach that you adopted was very child-centred and autism friendly. This became evident, when even though you clearly have an excellent grasp of the issues surrounding children with autism, you were also aware of the need to meet and learn about the children as individuals before you started sessions.
- Communication between us was excellent and your correspondence was always very clear and informative. You were also very understanding and positive about any changes that we had to make to do with timetabling and access to the work space. Environments and activities were created and dismantled with amazing speed and efficiency.
- The content of the workshops was always suitable and you were flexible enough to alter and develop your approach to suit the needs of the children, as you got to know them better. For example you invited one child to come in to the performance environment with the lights on and before the other pupils arrived so they he could gradually adjust to the environment before the performance started. Your grouping of the children was also very carefully considered.
- All of the children clearly benefited from the experience, despite the fact that they had vastly differing needs and abilities. Both verbal and non verbal pupils’ communication and interaction was definitely enhanced. They were fascinated by the fantasy aspect of your workshops, with many successful attempts at role play. Behaviours associated with sensory issues such as self stimulatory activities, were greatly reduced as they became increasingly involved in and motivated by the appropriate level of activities that you all provided them with.
- Of the eight pupils selected to take part in the project, four could be described as having severe challenging behaviour. Three of these pupils had a particularly positive response to the performances, the fourth one found it difficult to cope with the darkness. Their communication and interaction throughout the workshops was increased with lots of sustained eye contact, engagement, verbalisations, smiles and laughter. One of the pupils has even been reported to have started talking to her cat at home and this surely must be as a result of experiencing talking animals during the Imagining Autism workshops!
I would be very interested with continuing to work with you on any similar projects in the future and good luck with any forthcoming plans that you have for extending and promoting this extremely valuable and interesting approach for children with autism.
Yvonne Meredith, Specialist Teacher for Behaviour, Communication and Interaction.
The Funny Thing About Autism, was a presentation/demonstration that the Imagining Autism team did as part of the ‘Lifting the Curtain’ series in April. The aim of the series was to share with the general public Drama research at the University of Kent. This was an opportunity for the team to show the importance of comedy and play when working with individuals with autism. Practical techniques, such as clowning and puppetry were demonstrated to a wide audience including parents, teachers, carers, health professionals , individuals on the spectrum and those with a general interest in our work and autism. The event started with a presentation by Nicola Shaughnessy and Melissa Trimingham, followed by a demonstration involving trainee practitioners of various techniques that could be applied to real-life situations, such as using a puppet to help with bath time or getting dressed in the morning. The question and answer session included the team responding to problem situations encountered by the audience. Some of the feedback from the event is included below:
This has been most useful. Thank you.It made me realise how creative and imaginative you can be when working with children with Autism and it doesn’t necessarily limit you in what you can do.
Definitely will inform my drama teaching work. I love using puppets and imaginative ideas for how to interact with nephew and other children when babysitting. I believe strongly that comedy can be much more effective than discipline and shouting which creates negativity. When teaching, interacting or simply communicating I have been re-affirmed in my belief this is a better way of living than constantly controlling children’s behaviour.
I wasn’t aware that autistic children could have such a subtle understanding of comedy, especially slapstick which relies on understanding social norms.
I will use different approaches and get on ebay to source puppets! I feel I have been inspired to try a different mix of techniques in class. I will make sure I use or have puppets available to cajole or subdue the autistic children. I will use slapstick and exaggeration in a more conscious way – I find I use this naturally!