Information about this informative event: The British Dyslexia Association with Dyslexia Science, Engineering and Technology, are delighted to announce an Adult Conference and Organisational Member’s Day, hosted by BRE. All are welcome to this informative day!
This conference will explore how individuals can celebrate and accentuate their Neurodiverse talents and explore how those in the workplace can develop Neurodiverse friendly practices.
Our experts include so far:
Margaret Malpas, MBE, Vice-President of the BDA. and author of “Self Fulfilment with Dyslexia: A Blueprint for Success”. Margaret will present on Networking for Success!
Katherine Hewlett from Achievability, presenting on Westminster Achievability Commission Report on Dyslexia and Recruitment.
Joanne Gregory, BDA Quality Mark Manager will present on The Dyslexia Friendly Workplace and the Dyslexia Aware Award for employers.
Aidan Ridyard: Successful and renowned Architect, Aidan will explore how his journey with dyslexia has evolved throughout his life and professional career, his talk ‘Volere Volare… To want to fly’ celebrates positive dyslexia and will be truly inspirational!
Masterclass on ‘Neurodiversity and Assessment in the workplace’: This session will give an overview on creating a neurodiverse working environment and will address the procedures around assessing for dyslexia, a fantastic overview of the key issues.
This new report was launched on 28 March and in collaboration with autistic people, organisations and charities in relation to fake cures often distributed on social media. These ‘cures’ are rightfully causing concern so the Westminster Commission on Autism has produced a short report on recommendations to Government to support people and families. Link to the report is here: https://t.co/yGZCyrnGmr
We at DCN have launched an informal virtual group of Neurodiverse Museum Professionals (dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, AD(H)D, ASD and tourettes who work (both paid and unpaid) or are emerging professionals in the Heritage and Cultural Sectors. It will be peer support led with opportunities to share strategies, develop friendships and influence in the sectors.
We can also provide opportunities to feedback your Access to Work experiences to D.A.N. (Dyslexia Adult Network) and AchieveAbility to improve service.
We would like the group to work in creating opportunities to improve existing working practices within the Heritage Sector and good for career development in inclusive practice.
How do I join?
U.S.A: There is a U.S. group being set up by Sam Theriault, for further details regarding the U.S. group please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and anyone can join the Neurodiverse Museum Professionals Group on Google Groups: https://groups.google.com/d/forum/neurodiverse-museum
U.K. and Europe: https://ndmuspgrp.ning.com/ You will need to email email@example.com with the subject heading ‘ND Group’ we will then send you an invitation code.
Dyslexia is part of the neurodiversity spectrum which includes dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, ADD, ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and tourettes. (Source: DANDA)
Up to 10% of the population are known to have dyslexic traits, however as knowledge and awareness increases more people, particularly adults are discovering that they are dyslexic. This is something that is part of their lives and the strengths associated with dyslexia may be a hidden asset to the workplace.
Some people do not think that dyslexia is a disability, however it is recognised under the Equality Act 2010. The issues a great deal of people experience are related to attitudinal discrimination in respect to lack of recognition, support and social barriers, not the dyslexic traits itself.
I think I might be dyslexic?
There are two options: you can be screened for risk of dyslexic traits. There are indications (depending on method of high, moderate and low risk). Screening is economically good (costs from £30 onwards) and if you are not sure or need to know quickly for support. Screenings are offered by local associations who have a great deal of experience in the field and can offer advice.
Diagnosis: this needs to be done by an Educational Psychologist who is a specialist in Dyslexia or a specialist dyslexia teacher – these are assessors who must register with PATOSS (https://www.patoss-dyslexia.org/) and the British Dyslexia Association (http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/) PATOSS and national charities can advise. Be expected that diagnosis can cost from £200 upwards. Some will charge about £500 for a formal diagnosis and report.
Suggested ways to find appropriate Educational Psychologists:
In the past, some adults have been diagnosed with dyslexia but don’t know their strengths or how to manage their traits. Others are very effective in planning, organisation, time management in respect to managing their dyslexic traits. They also recognise how their traits are effected under pressure.
If you don’t know how your dyslexia affects you?
There are a number of films available via You Tube which highlight the strengths of people with dyslexia. Suggested ones would be:
Don’t Call Me Stupid by Kara Tointon BBC Productions Kara has dyslexia and shows how recognising and managing traits can make the difference in a person’s life. Also the effect of attitudinal discrimination and support can impact.
Dyslexia: A Hidden Disability People in high finance, entertainment, medical and technology professions talk about the importance of recognition, diagnosis and support for children and adults.
‘Employers Guide to Dyslexia’ A booklet full of resources and suggested strategies is available via the British Dyslexia Association.
Dyslexia: How to survive and succeed at Work by Dr Sylvia Moody A fantastic resource of suggested strategies and knowledge regarding dyslexia and workplace. It usually retails at £13.00 but worth looking out for second hand copies on Amazon for about half the price.
I’ve got a problem at work and I don’t know what to do?
Dyslexia is protected under the Equality Act and if you feel concerned about any matter relating to workplace, the following numbers can be helpful.
Do check out each organisations websites for resources before you ring:
Equality and Human Rights Commission advice line: 0808 800 0082
ACAS Confidential Helpline: 0300 123 1100. It is available Monday 8am-8pm, Tuesday 8am-6pm, Wednesday to Thursday 8am-8pm and Friday 8am-6pm ACAS website also has useful resources: http://www.acas.org.uk/
We have a number of twitter feeds about what neurodiversity is and how it is a positive asset to the workplace. There are a number of excellent organisations and associations, particularly local groups who have a great deal of experience. These organisations are happy to be contacted to raise awareness, inclusive practice and support.
This page focuses on autism spectrum disorder and has a number of links and resources. This page sits alongside case studies and information available on this website. The aim for these resources is to support adults and families for inclusive practice in the workplace and service delivery of museums and cultural venues in the UK.
Workplace Training (including online training that can start as little as £25), awareness, guidance and workplace support go to the National Autistic Society http://www.autism.org.uk/
Launched in August 2015, the Curious Ceramics backpack is the V&A’s first backpack aimed at children with visual impairments. The V&A offer a number of backpacks for families, but for this special sensory version they worked in close collaboration with Sense, the national deafblind charity, and Abigail Hirsch an artist and an educator with experience and expertise in multisensory art engagement.
I first met Abigail at the Royal Academy – Why and How Conference back in 2015, her interactive gallery session on Rubens was a standout memory of the day. In February 2016 she invited me to visit the V&A with her to talk through the backpack, it was her first visit to see the final version actually in use in the gallery and we spent over an hour having fun with it.
Abigail told me the first challenge was finding an object to begin the journey with. The V&A had chosen the Ceramics Gallery for the backpack and it was important to tell the story of the gallery, not just of an individual object displayed in it. The Ceramics Gallery worked well as it was fairly quiet space that was not too crowded so that families felt comfortable and had room to work with the backpack.
The Ceramics Gallery was chosen and although it already had a lot to get hands on with and places to sit, it also proved a challenge as a lot of the displays were behind glass. Many objects are also not clearly displayed for someone with a visual impairment and it could be hard to distinguish between different objects in the cases. Abigail decided to tell the story of the journey of porcelain from China to the Netherlands, finally focusing on a large Dutch flower pyramid. She wanted to use objects, textures, sounds and smells to tell the story and include movement around the gallery.
It can be hard to pick out individual shapes on display if a visitor has visual impairment.
We picked up the bright yellow backpack from the education desk, inside were a collection of numbered bags containing a variety of items and a guide to explain how to use the bag. The guide takes the form of a story that provides active instructions to get families moving around the two ceramics galleries and questions are open-ended with no right or wrong answers.
It was important that the guide used contrast colours to make it easier for visually impaired visitors to use, and Abigail mentioned the problems of using laminated sheets where reflections on the shiny surface can cause difficulties. It was a requirement for all the bags to have exactly the same inside, it was also important to be able to easily source replacement items if anything became worn or damaged.
Items were road tested for durability, which led to for example a change in the selection of musical rainstick. Health and safety was a key issue too, the bags were aimed at families, with an awareness that there maybe younger ones in the group. The smallest cube from the box pyramid was removed as they felt it was too small and could easily be swallowed. Abigail also initially wanted an ocarina (a small musical instrument) included but the implications of spreading germs and the impractical requirement to clean after every use meant they were left out.
I thoroughly enjoyed working through the bags and the story they told in the gallery space. It was refreshing to have activities that did not require a pencil and paper and I thought the magnetic drawing board in particular a great idea. I felt the guide was a really useful tool, giving visitors the confidence to talk about objects and enjoy the galleries, it became a facilitator rather than a set of instructions.
There was a lot to touch, feel, smell and listen to, my favourite items were the clogs which provoked a surprising ‘ahh’ when they came out of the bag as they were very unexpected. The noise of wood and the encouragement they give children to make noise in the gallery are a welcome challenge to the stereotype of quiet traditional museums.
Points to consider when designing sensory backpacks –
Budget – what is your budget? Can you apply to an external funder? The V&A backpacks were supported by Lord Leonard and Lady Estelle Wolfson.
Backpacks work better if they are aimed at the whole family, not just children. What activities draw adults in too
Backpacks need to tell a story, not just contain objects.
How can the backpack facilitate movement around the gallery or museum? Are there also places to sit and feel comfortable, to have time to go through the backpack.
Make sure you advertise and promote the backpacks on the website and in the gallery. Do front of house staff know about them and can suggest them to a visiting family?
Where are the bags kept? The only downside at the V&A is the bags were kept on the education desk on the 3rd floor, you had to find your way there and then go on to the 6th floor to find the Ceramics Gallery. Do families need to know about the backpacks before they come?
Do visitors need to leave a deposit or just a form of ID? Are there forms to fill out? Will this put families off taking out a bag?
Think about the health and safety aspects, are objects robust and can be used without staff supervision? Are their musical instruments that are blown? Can they be cleaned after each use?
Where do you want families to use the backpack? Is there a particular gallery or space that would work well with a visually impaired audience?
Feedback and evaluation is crucial, it can be hard to get families to fill out evaluation forms under their own steam. Do staff need to prompt feedback when a backpack is returned? Can in-gallery staff give verbal feedback from observations on how the backpack is used?
DCN was both thrilled and honoured to be invited to hear more about CAPE (Creating A Positive Environment) Project entitled ‘Joining the Dots’ to attract and retain neurodiverse talent in the workplace at the BBC.
Neurodiversity is a spectrum of dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, Attention Deficit Disorder, ASD (autistic spectrum disorder) and tourettes . As these profiles are part of a spectrum, it means it effects people in different ways, such as poor working memory but strengthened with a strong visual memory. People with dyslexic traits can often see the big picture and how their organisation can be strategically influenced for better business. Other people may have difficulties reading body language but can consume information as their special interest and collections. No two people will have exactly the same traits.
The BBC event was a great opportunity to meet our colleagues from various social media groups such as #AXSChat and fellow tweeters who are passionate about diversity and inclusion for all. We were happily met by Chloe Spicer who designs multi-sensory experiences with books. Also Neil Milliken from #AXSchat a global accessibility group of various individuals, national and international organisations which invited DCN to be interviewed a few weeks ago. We caught up and networked with representatives including the National Autism Society, Sensory Spectacle and BBC. It was great to see the Tate speaking about their work creating sound artat Tate Kids for children with neurodiverse profiles.
The historic Radio Theatre showcased neurodiverse talent for next 1 ½ hours. Amber Lee Dodd reading from her book ‘We Are Giants’, Rapper Smiffy, Dancer Javarn Carter-Fraser aka Nitro, Space Scientist Maggie Auderin Pocock, great band ‘The Autistix’ comedian Don Biswas and Alan Gardener ‘The Autistic Gardener.’ I’m not going to tell you what neurodiverse profiles these people have, because it shouldn’t matter. Their talent as communicators in their chosen field shone through the entire theatre. Their profiles are part of them, but really it’s their talent as people which is defining.
The message behind the event was the collaboration of sectors and recognising that our recruitment and methods may not attract the talent that we actively sought, as they are not accessible. BBC Employable Me shows that some techniques will not always attract the best candidate. Interestingly when Ashley spoke about his love of the Victorian era. He was sent to an auction house, not a museum.
Leena Haque said for discussion and afterthought should we cross out the word ‘dis’ in disability remain with the word ability’? We recognise ability, but let’s look at our methods to attract and retain neurodiverse and disabled talent in the workplace.
Coming from the perspective of a casual visitor to museums and having (as yet) not professional experience from working in the sector, I feel confident enough in saying that the activities which have come my way have given a rare insight that others my age would have not had themselves. Whether it has been producing an exhibition in a museum or gaining paid roles as a result of volunteering, not only accessing heritage from a young age is a valuable opening in its own right, but impacts those like myself who have lifelong conditions to manage. For the latter part, it can alter the perception someone can see the world.
My own personal story seemed to reach a highlight at the recent Autism in Museums event, hosted by the charity Kids in Museums, where on behalf of Ambitious about Autism I presented on what I believe professionals could learn from those periods in which museums and other related organisations really did break from their shell. The three values I spoke of as followed:
While most have their own interpretations on what those words mean to them, I saw in practice how these three interlinked goals could make a difference in what is seen sometimes as an unfashionable environment. At Dorset County Museum (DCM) in 2012, a cohort of us of mixed abilities, in education, employment or, as in some cases, with profound disabilities, worked together to put on a full exhibition on a 70 year legacy of youth clubs in the county. The project, Dorset Young Remembers (DYR), was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and was a celebration of all time strands from past to future of how provision for young people could make a real difference.
While the contents of the exhibition were something to be proud of, the real success lied in how all volunteers were part of the group and would be able to utilise their interests in research, interviewing members of the community or in my case, acting as a press officer for our online blog and the media. The challenge of acting as a Master of Ceremonies may have prompted some organisations to query whether someone more…polished to have taken on my role when officially launching the exhibition, but DCM gave us full control and responsibility of how we wanted to achieve our vision. As unusual in its context it may be, for those on the spectrum like myself and others who felt powerless to have any role in our communities, the experience of making something happen and acquiring a few more skills for the wider world pays its dividends. The Museum alone has to be applauded for taking what in retrospect now was a gamble and throwing its doors open to an area of modern history not often appreciated enough.
Breaking the Mould
With most museums intent on bringing its visitors inside its doors, it has to be said many more people would take a keener interest if the history could be located in the wider outdoor world where local heritage can be seen in the flesh. Living in an area like Dorset, many of its towns, including our base in Dorchester, is fortunate in not having to look hard to find a backstory. As a true example of this, Geocaching was an effective medium, which already had an international following, of setting boxes in hidden locations to simply tell those stories! Simple enough in its premise, but as a cost effective and accessible project for young people of all abilities to develop and take part in, it does in effect bring history to life when you might be standing in the heart of something significant. In my presentation, I recommended museums make more of a conscious effort to go beyond the typical boards attached to exhibits which might tell stories. With
copious sentences and sometimes minimally sized font, for those who are autistic and beyond, there is nothing to be gained from this. As illustrated by DYR’s successor project, Walking in their Shoes, with the help of Young Roots funding, produced its own unique spin of telling interesting narratives.
Previously used for exhibition boards at DCM, the Comic Life, software and others like it have the potential to be game changers in how history is perceived by a younger audience. Indeed, with the close support by The Tank Museum and Keep Military Museum, they helped to embrace our new approach by accessing their archives, even with the chance to see an exhibit in progress, to bring the history of World War I 100 years on to 2014. For Anglo Saxon research, this became even more pivotal when there is such little recorded factual information. A little imagination can go a long way, but without the collaboration of those who supported us in the heritage field, it would have failed miserably. For volunteers who had disabilities and who may have felt excluded previously, to feel valued with supported tasks they could make a contribution. Key to that is having willing adult volunteers who can enable younger ones. That in itself should be an incentive to museums to welcome new audiences.
Finding the Answers
There is no easy solution to prescribe to all venues. Museums and other places come in all different shapes and sizes and where funding these days becomes increasingly scarcer. A recurring point from the event this month shows just how basic training in autism awareness could go a long way to make a difference, but there are at last precedents being made and embracing autism in a more holistic method than previously done. The RAF and V&A Museums are trailblazing in this respect.
My booklet, ‘Generation History’ which was produced with the help of the charity Fixers advises how to make local heritage more inclusive and inviting to all. Though some things need investment to make it happen, I find it is an alternative approach which can help to break boundaries. Autism is not the problem to be solved here – it is the way in which we accommodate others that can tell of innovation.
A multi-sensory storytelling project for special schools created by Peoplescape Theatre.
In partnership with National Maritime Museum, Cutty Sark and Horniman Museums and Gardens.
Funded by the Arts Council
Peoplescape are a theatre education company working in London and Manchester. We work with all ages in schools, museums and community settings. Over the past 8 years we have been developing theatre projects in museums for children with special needs.
We aim to create theatre that is accessible to all, so we often limit our words, use music, sensory experiences. Our work is always interactive often with the children taking a role in the story. In this project we were also working with a composer and digital mentor.
Following our recent successful projects for special needs audiences at the Museum of London and ‘Welcome to Cottonopolis’ at the People’s History Museum, John Rylands Library and Salford Museum, we were delighted to be collaborating with three wonderful museums in South London.
All of the museums were very keen to develop their offer to special needs groups.
We wanted to find a way to link the museums’ collections in a meaningful way and create a single story which would be performed in each museum for special school audiences.
Company Play day and Focus Group
The project began in February 2015 with a company play day at the Horniman Museum – exploring style, theme, techniques. This was followed by a focus group workshop bringing together Peoplescape, the museums and local special schools. We shared ways of working creatively with children with special needs, possible ideas for stories, and worked through drama to engage with objects, characters and themes inspired by the museums. We also talked to the teachers about universal themes that were pertinent for their children.
We came up with a simple story – It is the late 19th Century. A 14-year-old apprentice says goodbye to his mum and boards a tea clipper for a voyage overseas.
Research and Development
We began a series of nine research and development workshops in three schools local to the museums. We worked with one class at each school. The groups were very different:
Year six high functioning children with ASD Year one children with SLD and PMLD Year four children with a variety of need: ASD, SLD and PMLD
Within these workshops we were able to try out ideas, themes and ways of working, including:
Storm Music created by the children
Call and response sea shanties
Multi-sensory objects and experiences e.g. wind created by sails, rope, tea, ice bags, UV fabric sea creatures
Different characters and moving in and out of role
Live video projecting of children whilst they were in role as sailors
Applied theatre techniques such as improvisation, thought tapping, forum theatre to explore the apprentice’s feelings about leaving home, the jobs he might do on the ship etc.
An interactive floor projection of the sea.
From the workshops we were able to find out what worked for all groups (e.g. the mum role and the emotion of leaving) and what didn’t (e.g. shadow puppets for children with visual impairments). Each group was also able to have a session in one of the museums. The children had ownership of the story and were able to contribute in their own way e.g. showing us their reactions to various digital and musical techniques, naming the main character ‘Tom’, choosing China as a destination for the ship, telling us their research about the harshness of conditions on board 19th century tea clippers.
All this work fed into our devising process where we shaped the ideas into an hour-long participatory performance.
Before each performance we visit each school to deliver an outreach workshop to introduce ourselves and some of the props, songs and characters. We are also able to gauge the needs of the children and pitch the performance appropriately.
The performance – Tom’s Ship of Stories
“Prepare the Ship to set sail”
“Haul the ropes and hoist the sails!”
“Are you ready for hard work? Scrub the decks!”
“I don’t think I’d like to eat a jellyfish for my tea!”
‘pack the tea and load the crates’
“I want the rain to stop, I want the wind to stop, I want to sleep” “Tom is feeling sad…. I wonder if any of you can help?”
“very well thought through, addressing the auditory, sensory and visual needs of the audience”
“the whole performance was fantastic, children were extremely engaged”
“Lovely to come to something that was pitched at just the right level”
We are currently working on the next phase of the project. We’re working with the museums to develop their own sessions created specifically for special needs groups drawing on the techniques we’ve used in Tom’s Ship and the many things we’ve learned.
Free showcase performance of Tom’s Ship of Stories, followed by discussion, at the National Maritime Museum on the 10th March, 3-5pm. Open to all those working in museums/theatre/education. Places must be reserved, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Filmmaker and educator Suzanne Cohen talks about her experiences of delivering media projects at the British Museum.
I have been facilitating weeklong film projects for young people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) (13 – 19 years) in the summer holidays for the last seven years with an organization called Camden Summer University in collaboration with speech and language therapists from Whittington Health NHS.
Most of the courses have been hosted by the British Museum which is an excellent venue as it offers a large classroom plus lots of break out spaces for small group work, access to the collection and a very supportive environment created by Education Manager Katharine Hoare who we work closely with.
My role has been to devise exciting projects inspired by the location/exhibitions using a range of filmmaking techniques, which develop vocational skills. The end product is screened at a cinema in the British Museum in the Camden Summer University Young People’s Film Festival, which motivates us to do bigger and better things each year.
Of course the other important aim is to develop communication and interpersonal skills through group work. This gives the participants the opportunity to meet and make friends with other young people with similar interests who also have social communication difficulties or ASD.
Kate Bayley (Speech and Language Therapist – Team Leader) explains that ‘the course targets a number of vital skills for adulthood such as confidence, teamwork and independence. Social anxiety and individual needs can be supported by the therapists, so that the young people are free to focus on enjoying the galleries of the British Museum, and learning film skills from a professional. The feedback we get from young people and parents is that this can be a huge step in these young people’s lives!’
I was new to working with young people with ASD and initially I found it a struggle because things seemed to move slowly due to a range of issues which varied from student to student. These included short attention spans, focusing in on minute details, difficulties sharing and accepting others opinions, and lacking confidence/proficiency with IT.
In addition the young people with ASD found it difficult at times to be flexible and work in groups which led to some arguments and conflicts with each other. Increasing the number of adults present helped to ensure that everyone could supported to engage in the group as much as they wanted whilst allowing them opportunities to be taken out of the group situation if things became overwhelming for them. This year we had ten young people plus nine adults (myself and an assistant, a parent and 7 speech and language therapists per day). Some of the young people knew each other from previous years and it was lovely to see them becoming more comfortable within the group situation.
The speech and language therapists have helped me to adapt my teaching for working with groups of young people with ASD, in the following ways:
Tightly structured activities, which get looser as the week progresses.
Presenting lesson plans on the board at the start of each section so expectations are clear and students know what to focus on now and what is happening next.
Explaining abstract concepts more thoroughly using simple unambiguous language and visual examples wherever possible
Including movement breaks to assist concentration and help students calm down or re-energise accordingly.
Class discussions need some preparation to be fruitful, e.g. break out into pairs first to enable them time and space to sound out or write down their views with others before contributing to the whole group .
The concept of ‘The Secret Museum’ animation was inspired by the mini tours we had been given to areas of the museum, which are not accessible to the public. The story is about a youth group on a day trip to the museum. We focus on four characters that get distracted by something and are lured away into a secret realm where they encounter an object come to life. Finally they come out of the situation unscathed returning to normality.
The idea was to make a collaborative film where each small group devised a main character and wrote and directed their particular storyline. I provided the narrative structure in order to pull the whole thing together and to help the students to create a more focused storyline. The speech and language therapists encouraged the use of interior monologues to develop empathy skills.
We used stop frame animation rather than live action party because the young people found exaggerated characterisation , facial expressions and movements easier to perform than ‘natural’ acting skills.
Each group storyboarded, shot, acted in and edited their sections, which were combined into a 4.5 minute film. You can see the results here (https://t.co/J3cdhd9gen); it is brimming with ideas and humour and is technically very proficient.
It has been great to see some of the young people returning year after year. I find the groups stimulating to teach and think the work they produce is very unique.
‘Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling. Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed. Dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities.
It is best thought of as a continuum, not a distinct category, and there are no clear cut-off points. Co-occurring difficulties may be seen in aspects of language, motor co-ordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation, but these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia.
A good indication of the severity and persistence of dyslexic difficulties can be gained by examining how the individual responds or has responded to well founded intervention.’
The Royal Air Force Museum has recently embarked on an exciting new partnership with Ambitious About Autism. In June 2014 we were the first museum to receive the Autistic Society’s Autism Access Award, and were keen to build on our efforts to become more accessible. We began working with Ambitious College when we were approached by their Employment specialist, Katie Wake, about the possibility of providing work placements for some of their students.
Ambitious College is a specialist further education provision for adults with autism. Located on the Grahame Park campus of Barnet and Southgate College, the college provides specialist support to enable young people with autism to access further education and supported employment in their local community. The needs of their students are complex and many find communication and social understanding very challenging.
Part of my role as Education Officer at the museum is to develop and run our work experience programme for young people. The museum is committed to accessibility and I offer a number of work experience placements within our Access and Learning team for students with special educational needs. However, this was the first time we would be working with students with severe and complex autism, which was a little daunting.
Ambitious College were brilliant. They really make the effort to get to know the workplace so that they can find the best fit for the employer and student. After an initial meeting where Katie and I discussed timings and tasks students might do at the museum, Katie spent a day with the Access and Learning team getting to know our working environment.
The museum’s formal learning activities are quite resource heavy. Visiting school groups can make replica gas mask boxes, evacuee labels, mini helicopter rotors, rockets or parachutes. All of these workshop resources need to be prepared in advance, and in large numbers. With up to 240 children visiting per day we get through them very quickly! Katie and I had identified resource preparation as a task that would suit her students and be very helpful to the museum.
During her time with our team Katie shadowed staff, took photographs of the resources students would be working with, and of the office environment itself. We provided her with the museum’s health and safety and risk assessment information as well as our guide for visitors with autism. This enabled her to put together an information pack which ensures that Ambitious College staff and students can be fully briefed before they come into the museum.
The museum agreed that we would take on one student for one afternoon per week on a rolling basis.
During the placement
Before each placement Katie sends me a profile of the student detailing their specific needs, likes and dislikes, and how they communicate. During their placement students are accompanied by at least two specialist college support staff who know the student well and coach and support them at all times. Students have their own desk in our open plan office. I provide a series of tasks for them to complete, and the support staff work directly with the student to encourage and assist them with their work. At the end of their placement students get a certificate of achievement together with a record of the tasks they have completed.
We took on our first Ambitious College student, Mary, between February and April 2015, and our second, Conor, from May to July. So far the partnership seems to be working really well. Both Mary and Conor coped brilliantly with the Museum environment. They took to the work we gave them very quickly and did a fantastic job.
Feedback from the College has been very positive. The students benefit from gaining experience of a new environment and meeting new people. As well as building confidence, they are also developing new skills and an understanding of the workplace.
The museum benefits by expanding its range of partnerships, improving accessibility and by having the chance to learn from highly trained and experienced SEN professionals. In addition, the work these students do preparing resources for our learning activities makes a real contribution to our schools programme.
We are all adapting and learning as we go along. Early on I discovered that a good approach was to provide students with a variety of different tasks to complete so that they could be encouraged to choose what they did, and in which order.
As an employer, being a little bit flexible can be helpful. There are occasions when students are not able to attend their allotted placement time and have to cancel on short notice, for example. Above all, I think maintaining good communication between partners has been vital to the success of this project.
Working with Ambitious College has been personally very inspiring. Observing how the support staff work with their students, motivating and encouraging them, has been a real education. Their skill and professionalism gives me complete confidence that we can offer work placements for students with complex needs. I also feel that I am learning a great deal from their staff that I can apply in my wider role as an Education Officer. This can really help us improve the museum’s provision for SEND audiences.
I very much hope we can continue to develop and expand this relationship. In November this year Ambitious College and the RAF museum will be delivering a joint presentation at the Museums Association Conference about our experiences of providing work placements for students with autism.
I look forward to taking on more students when the new term starts in September. Working with Ambitious College has been beneficial in so many ways. We are all learning from this partnership and that is extremely positive and exciting.