This useful booklet is guidance on how to support people living with ASD who may need further support with mental health.
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.
Definition of terms:
SLD – Severe Learning Disabilities
ASD – Autistic Spectrum Disorders
PMLD – Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (physical, learning & sensory impairments)
Photos © National Maritime Museum
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 email@example.com
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.