My purpose is to support families and young people with autism, helping young people grow and reach their full potential, whatever that might be. I believe that we must try and educate the world that autism is simply a different way of developing and seeing the world – different, not less.
I come from a very creative and artistic background and believe strongly that art and animation can be a wonderful way to reach out and connect with young people especially in the context of young people with complex and challenging needs.
Art is also a medium of expression. This becomes important in the context of children with communication difficulties such as someone who is perhaps nonverbal and there for might not be able to communicate their needs verbally. But through a medium like art they can transcend this barrier and describe their feelings and emotions.
Art is one activity where there is no fixed expectation. There is never a perceived perfect right or wrong. No work of art can be labelled as ‘’bad’’. This allows the young person to be able to work at their own pace without competition and unrealistic expectations. Whatever they do is as creative and good as whatever everyone around them is doing. They can also finish their work in 5 minutes or work on it for longer. Young people love creating art because there are no fixed expectations.
To say I am passionate about autism and young people with autism is an understatement. That is why I decided to dedicate myself to try and raise awareness to the potential that each person with autism has. That people with autism are worthwhile members of this society, able to contribute greatness through uniqueness.
While supporting young people with autism I place an importance on equipping the young person I am supporting with good social copying mechanism skills. What I mean by copying mechanism skills is not ‘forced eye contact’ or trying to take away a young person’s uniqueness in order to make them appear ‘normal’. But instead teaching a young person how to cope with stressful social situations. Giving them a way to feel comfortable enough to avoid feeling overwhelmed leading to perhaps sensory overload.
The approach I take is to subtly teach young people copying mechanisms by channelling a young person’s individual passion or interest. I believe that it is important to listen with open and non-judgmental mind to the young people I work with. As through trust and understanding any goal can be reached. I believe you must be open to entering a young person’s world and allow yourself to see things from their view point.
For example one young girl I initially began supporting would not talk with anyone outside of her home, she was withdrawn and happy to remain in her own world. Through listening to her and watching her I learned that she was not ‘talking’ to herself but instead creating imaginary stories based around animal characters she had created.
I decided to channel this by giving her very own storybook. It was pink her favourite colour and was covered in hello kitty with ‘s’ storybook written across the front. From this first storybook we are now on our 8th, all of them filled with creative tales and adventures. One of which she later translated in an animated film. She also then included me as a character, a ‘monkey’, as she informed me that this was my birth animal. Through this simple act and later other workshops ‘s’ now communicates freely with everyone around her and is more comfortable in expressing herself as she has been given ways to do so that works and are tailored for her.
I am always looking at ways in which animation and art can be used in new and innovative ways. Currently I am working on a concept that can be used to assist those young people more profoundly affected by autism. I felt that there must be a way to bring the young person’s world out and all around so that Neurotypical people can see and experience what it is like on a sensory level for people with autism.
I am currently working on a way to create an interactive installation that combines animation and audio in to a fully immersive sensory experience that reflects how someone profoundly affected by autism views the world surrounding them. Allowing both Neurotypical and young person with autism to emerge themselves in a sensory heightened world.
There is so much more I would love to say and I hope what I have written puts forward just a little of the passion and love I have for people with autism and hopefully I have not rambled too much. I believe strongly that the world is changing and changing for the better. That people with autism will and should be accepted for the marvellously unique and diverse individuals they are.
Seeing the world differently is something I can personally identify with as I have always viewed the world ‘upside down’ as my mother fondly phrases it, as I am both severely dyspraxic and dyslexic. It may not always be an easy path to walk, but without those square pegs in the world I just think what a sadder, duller, colourless world we would live in and I am thankful every day for being given the privilege to be able to work with the young people and families that I work with each day.