TrueStory 3

’Autism’, thinking out of the box

I moved into a small village in Buckinghamshire, in 2006. The village has, like many other villages around the country, it’s fair share of young people that face many challenges living in rural areas.

I was running a project in a school which had one autistic child. We started the next phase of the project, which was indian stamping with pattern repeats, at which point the teacher told me that ‘M’ will never using any colours but red and green. ‘Really’, I said, putting out lots of bright colours on each table as the children assembled around. I talked about the colours and patterns and the process we were going to follow, then left the children to their own devices with a piece of calico wooden carved stamps, paint and brushes on each table.

As I walked around the tables encouraging their children in their stamping and creativity, I spotted ‘M’ focussing on his work, as I looked over his shoulder, I saw that he had introduced ‘purple and blue’ to his design. I was so thrilled at this revelation, I indicated to the teacher to come and see for herself, who was equally amazed.

We continued with the project, which involved music and dance. As the children assembled into the hall, ‘M’ seemed a bit apprehensive, was kept to the back of the hall. As soon as the music went on, his hands immediately blocked his ears and seemed stressed, at which point he was remove from the session.

I regularly visited the school as our project was to run for a year, therefore, I was at the school once every week. The dance sessions were delivered every week, so the children were very familiar to the routine. We started introducing ‘M’ back into the sessions, with the music turned down slightly, every week I would turn the volume up slightly, getting ‘M’ prepared for the performance. Over the course of 12 weeks, there was a marked difference in ‘M’s’ behaviour. From standing at the back of the room to the volume down low, he gradually moved to the front of the class, focussing on my every move and action, ‘joining in’ fully engaged.

There was a marked change in his behaviour, as one day I was packing away my music system, he walked by with his father, dropped his fathers hand and ran towards me and ‘hugged’ me. To my surprise, I was slightly taken aback, but was overjoyed with this reaction of his. We continued with the project, and as the final performance drew nearer, ‘M’ seemed to be enjoying the whole journey, he made his mask for the performance and rehearsed happily mimicking everything I did.

I managed to get the school slotted on a stage at Waddesdon Manor, and we were slightly concerned by the venue and space and its effect on ‘M’, who was merrily just taking everything in. We got everyone assembled on stage, ready for our performance. ‘M’ sat quietly, then when the music started, he began to sing our song first, then the children stood up to their dance. ‘M’ looked like he thoroughly enjoyed it, as there were no signs of the music being too loud for him. After his performance ‘M’ looked very happy, his mother approached me to say a big thank you, and shared her moment of pride to see ‘M’ doing something she never thought she would see him do.

One month later was our final big performance to showcase our project. We performed with other children in their school. We were all a little concerned about how ‘M’ would react to another new venue, the chaos of a performance, with costume changes and loud music. To our surprise, ‘M’ was coping fine and engaging really well with other children. When it came to his performance with his school friends, the music was co-ordinated very well and went off early. This threw the children as they had rehearsed the sequence and this was not the way they rehearsed it. I took the decision to stop the children and asked them to start again, repeating the music. This snap decision was done so quickly, no-one had the opportunity to think, they just did what they were asked to do, including ’M’. This sudden change to the routine did not seem to dis-engage ‘M’ in any way, he took everything in his stride and surprised us all. Once again, his mother approached me and thanked me for givng him this opportunity, as we realised, that ‘M’ was ‘thinking out of the box’.

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