I was really looking forward to this one-day seminar, as I wanted to reconfirm what I knew or probably didn’t know about working with young people with disabilities and learning difficulties.
Along with the other members of NAYD staff we were joined by over twenty other drama workers from across the county.
The first session was with Stephen Moynihan and Sarah Duffy from the Irish Wheelchair Association.
The day started with a nice icebreaking exercise where we were all given a lemon and asked to give them personalities and names. We then had to put them into a big pile in the middle of the room and then asked to find them again. It was a fun way of seeing that just because people may appear the same we all have our own personalities and traits. We continued with another exercise where as small groups we all had to experience a disability while trying to complete a child’s jigsaw puzzle. I personally find some of these types of exercises can be a little corny at times but I found this one really useful. It is always good to stand in someone else’s shoes for a small while. It is an exercise I will definitely be stealing and using myself down the line. Watch this space.
The most useful part of the morning was actually chatting about disability. I sometimes get hung up on language that it is hard to know what to say. We try to be so politically correct that we fear we will say the wrong thing. So we end up saying nothing, and nothing is ever dealt with. The use of language can be so incendiary at times that it can very much get in the way of practicalities.
We finished off by watching a very funny clip from the C4 sitcom the I.T. Crowd. It showed how our attitudes to disability could be taken to the extreme with embarrassing outcomes. It was a lighthearted way to end the morning.
Dr. Carmel O Sullivan addressed the group in the afternoon on Drama in Education and Autistic Spectrum Disorders.
She gave us a brief history of autism and Asperger Syndrome and brought us up to speed with current thinking and developments. Again it was very useful to know that not everyone with autism can be labeled as being the same. There are different traits and characteristics to every individual.
She is currently engaged in long-term research at the School of Education in Trinity College in which she has been working with a number of young people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders over a number of years through drama. She spoke to us about her work with these teenagers with autism and how that work through drama has thrown up some interesting and radical outcomes.
She told us what drama activities could work best and what types of activities to avoid. By using long form story and process drama exercises she can engage these young people in problem solving and notions of empathy. How we as facilitators can use our voice, facial expressions and body language will have a huge bearing on how these young people will engage with us through drama. Exaggeration and theatricality really does a difference in communication with people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders.
This work can be slow, as you really need to build relationships over a long period of time before progress can be made.
What I gained from this is that drama really could make a real difference to these young people. These young people’s engagement in drama activities is flying in the face of previously held misconceptions of how young people with autism could engage with the world around them.
I found Carmel riveting. She was such a good communicator and her theatrical style of delivery along with her humorous and passionate approach ensured I paid full attention.
The biggest issue we face as facilitators is not being fully informed as to people’s needs. Very often parents can either be in denial or feel it is not necessary for a drama worker to know of a young person’s condition. In fact the young people may not be aware themselves and this can prove difficult for everyone.
I feel that if we are best able to serve the needs of that young person and the needs of all the members of a group it is imperative that we are informed. Once you know about something you are better able to deal with it and have agreeable outcomes for all.
Again the main thing that I took away from this session is that I can keep doing what I am doing as a facilitator. It can be ok to exclude someone from a group if you feel it is detrimental to the rest of the group or to the young person themselves, especially if they are being so disruptive that it becomes impractical for everyone. I will still get some things right and I will still make mistakes sometimes. It’s not the end of the world if I do.
I honestly feel I have a greater awareness of working with people with disabilities and those on the Autistic Spectrum and I would be more confident is solving problems as they arise in sessions.
To find out more about the work of the Irish Wheelchair Association visit their website.
The results of Carmel O’Sullivan’s research will be available soon. We will provide details on how to access them at the time. In the meantime visit the Aspire website to find out more about Carmel’s work.
April 4, 2012