Storytelling - Autism Specific Sessions
A story by The Village Storytelling centre
We provided sensory storytelling and creative arts activities for young people with autism at our centre in Pollok, Glasgow. In addition, we provided a space for parents and carers to relax and build relationships with each other.
What Storytelling - Autism Specific Sessions did
We delivered: 24 x Sensate Calm sessions - quiet, gentle sensory storytelling sessions for young people who prefer calm. Earlier sessions included crafting, relaxation exercises, sensory stories, video/short animation making
28 x Sensate sessions - these sessions are still very sensory led however they are often messier and involve more opportunity for participants to chat, sing and be generally louder. Earlier sessions included games, crafting, baking, stories, story making, relaxation exercises
Latterly, we worked with Imelda Neale, an artist with extensive experience in participatory arts projects for people with sensory needs. Imelda concentrated on facilitating sensory and imagination-based work, using sculptural processes, painting and other mark-making to make different creatures and characters.
Sessions took place at our centre in Pollok, Glasgow on Wednesday afternoons/early evening and were specifically devised for young people with autism aged 8 - 18 years.
Due to covid-19 we delivered 2 sessions via Zoom at the end of March.
During each session a room was provided for the parents/carers. This gives the young people the opportunity to engage in the activities freely but with the security of having their parents/carers next door. For the parents/carers the room provides space for them to relax, enjoy a chat and to develop their own support network while knowing their child is engaged in activities nearby.
Staff: Earlier sessions were delivered by experienced storytellers with experience in working with people with a variety of additional needs and sensory requirements. From September we also engaged a Freelance storyteller with her own experience of neurodiversity. The young people responded extremely well to her and saw her as a positive role model.
It was important to have continuity for participants so when our core storyteller moved on we quickly replaced her with another storyteller with exceptional understanding of the needs of the group. Staff took part in autism awareness training by Play Radical. The greatest success was in development of relationships. The priority we addressed mostly was Independence.
What The Village Storytelling centre has learned
We have learned a great deal about the accessibility of our building. During the project we made small amendments to our space and to signage in response to participants needs. We also engaged Play Radical to deliver training and an audit of our space which enabled us to recognise that we have many more amendments to make which we are committed to doing.
We also learned that many of our participants had never attended our larger community wide events as they could potentially be overwhelming for autistic young people. To address this, we have now begun to ensure that our events have an autism friendly hour prior to the event opening to the wider community. This was a huge success at out Christmas event, with two of our Sensate participants even staying far beyond the autism friendly hour as they had established their comfort in the space prior to others attending.
At the end of the project we were faced with cancelling our remaining sessions due to Covid. We delivered the last two sessions via zoom to varying success. We realise that zoom was very suitable for some of our participants but not for others but that it was more than possible for us to continue to provide for and collaborate with our participants using remote digital technology.
How The Village Storytelling centre has benefitted from the funding
This funding has enabled us to meet a need within our local community that was not previously being met.. It has widened our reach and increased our understanding of individual needs. This has in turn had an impact on all of our children and young people's programmes. Many of our sessions are attended by people who have either undiagnosed needs or those with a diagnosis but do not wish to join in with anything other than mainstream services for fear of being 'othered'. Our team have worked together to share learning and knowledge which has gone on to benefit all of the children and young people we work with, ensuring that our staff have the appropriate skills and understanding and that activities are accessible to all. Due to this funding and the opportunity to deliver this project we are looking at accessibility and inclusivity within our project as a whole: from our Board of Directors to our Staff tea, and from our current project delivery to future development plans, as well as our physical space.
15 Children and young people will have new and improved supportive relationships with peers engaging with each other outwith the sessions.
All 15 participants had opportunities to take part in activities which are fun, stimulating & rewarding. Sessions were designed & delivered by facilitators who are trained & knowledgeable about autism. This enabled us to create a bespoke environment where these specific young people can feel relaxed & have great fun. 12 participants developed very positive relationships with their peers, with a small number, 4, engaging with each other outwith sessions. 'The club is amazing. I think it's really important that they know it's for them and it works for them. And they're so happy to go, even if they're had a long day at school. ...They're so free when they're there, I mean, the things that they do, they're just so free.' Parent, Child 'A' It's really fun that we can find ways to create stuff. And find ways to help other people enjoy it. And just, make friends with people who are relatable to you. And do things that you might like with them. It's just, really nice.
Before coming along to Sensate, 'A' (now aged 9) didn't socialise outside of school and his family, and he was in some ways lonely and isolated. His mum told us: I was looking for groups and things before he went [to Sensate] and he was saying, “Why don't I have friends, mum?” And now he has friends. It's really important to him. 'A' really enjoys seeing the other children and young people, and the facilitators, at the weekly sessions. He has formed a good friendship with another boy who is the same age as him (Child 'D'), and they alternate between doing their art activities on their own or partnering with each other, talking and listening to each other with great gusto and enjoyment. During the challenge of the lockdown this spring, we have done our best to keep participants in touch with each other, by running weekly video calls where they can see each other and catch up. This has not always been straightforward, as some of the children struggle with sensory and social aspects of using this imperfect way of meeting each other, but in spite of that the video calls have been really important for the children who have taken part in them. About this, 'A''s mother has said: It's a good thing for ['A'] to see the people that he misses - to see that everyone's ok, because he's frightened... It helps him mentally. At night he's like, “I spoke to my friends and they're fine.” The video calls have allowed us to develop the relationships within the group, and get to know each other better during the lockdown – a situation which unfortunately is especially difficult for many autistic children dealing with anxiety. The calls are fun, including not only the people who are taking part, but our teddy bears, dogs, cats, drawings, Lego – our home lives. This cheerful and warm social engagement is a really important part of the week for 'A'. I'm sure that, through time, the friends they make at the club will be friends for life. - 'A''s mother
15 children, young people report feeling more confident, valued and more happy due to the storytelling programme. 20 carers report feeling better connected, less stressed and with greater levels of happiness.
For many of the young people involved, and for all the carers, one of Sensate's greatest impacts has been the opportunity it gives to spend time with people who are going through similar experiences. Carers have really valued the chances to talk with other carers, and the children and young people have found it exciting and reassuring to develop friendships with people who are like them and very readily understand and appreciate them for who they really are. This seems to make a huge difference to participants' wellbeing, in different ways. It's made such a difference to both my boys' lives. - Parent, Children B and D If it ever stopped, it would be a massive loss to the kids' lives, because these things are massive to them. They need it so much. - Parent, Child A Throughout the project: 12 of the carers reported feeling better connected, less stressed and happier, 12 of the young people either reported or were observed to be happier or more confident.
One parent has told us how Sensate has impacted on her own wellbeing. Firstly, and apparently foremost, it satisfies her that one of her child's main needs is taken of – his urgent need for a social and expressive outlet. She has explained – as have other parents – that in the Pollok area, groups for autistic children are very rare even though parents are putting time and effort into searching for them, because they know their children really need them. It takes a lot of pressure off me. It's quite difficult to find these groups, and the fact that [child] has that group now takes a lot of pressure off me. It's his world, and he's quite happy in that world, and as long as he's happy it takes the pressure off me. Further to this, she has benefited considerably from the opportunity to socialise with other carers in a relaxed and informal environment. Having the chance to be supported but also, particularly for this carer to support and offer advice to others and to just enjoy general life chat has been of huge benefit. Additional Case Study is provided via email.
20 carers, including siblings will report a sense of being listened to, supported and welcomed as a whole person within our centre and with a new support network of parents
Each week, parents and carers have the option to to be in another (warm and cosy) room, where there's tea and snacks, and generally quite a bit of chat. The parents have reported enjoying having that time to themselves and to be able to talk with each other away from the immediate responsibility of supervising or caring for their child. For me [the main benefit is] to get to speak to other parents, who can relate to you, who understand. Just having time to relax as well, a wee bit of relaxation for us just to talk as well, so ...it is a break. ...We get to de-stress and have some 'us time'. - Parent, Children B and D It's lovely to be part of it. I enjoy that part of it, we all share our wee things that are going on, at the time. To have somewhere to sit with the other parents and have a cup of tea is enough [to unwind]. - Parent, Child A 15 parents reported , throughout the project, that they felt listened to and supported.
One parent 'X' lives nearby our centre and was the person who first asked us if we delivered sessions specifically for autistic young people as she has 4 children with autism. During the consultation period X was very supportive to the organisation and showed a great deal of strength in her knowledge about what needs to be in place. X's children did not attend at first but she eventually brought her youngest child and later her older child who has more complex needs to the 'Calm' session. The opportunity for X to relax and enjoy the company of other parents whilst safe in the knowledge that her child is enjoying themselves next door is a relief. Due to her older child's needs X likes to stay in the room during the 'calm' sessions but she participates alongside rather than cares for her child, enjoying the company of the facilitators. Earlier in the year X was invited to join the Board of our organisation and she has done so to great success. She is a valued member of our team, someone who has already made a great impact on our organisation and the community. And as one of the other parents described her she is also 'a supermum'.
Additional project outcome
Children and young people will have new and improved creative skills
Throughout Sensate, the children and young people have really enjoyed taking part in a wide range of creative activities. This spring, they have worked often with our guest artist Imelda Neale. Imelda brings a wealth of experience in using sculptural and visual art practices to really listen to people with additional and complex needs, offering them a range of materials and experiences and then helping them to build an artistic practice by reacting to their demonstrated preferences and interests. Imelda and the other facilitators this term have really enjoyed supporting each child or young person to develop skills in using art practices that interest them. As a group we concentrated on sensory and imagination-based work, using sculptural processes, painting and other mark making to make different creatures and characters. One young person used fabric and a sewing machine (which they greatly enjoyed as a sensory experience) to make big snake sculptures filled with satisfyingly textured materials like sand and beans. Another young person used watercolours to make comic book-style drawings on a large, fabric banner. Another child felted wool by putting wool through a 'washing machine' he had enthusiastically created with a circular box from an old box of chocolates, with water inside – a messy but very exciting invention! Over the course of each session, the room filled up with interesting objects, textures and colours, and the children and young people were completely absorbed in their creative endeavours. Perhaps their great enjoyment in this may be shown by this quote from two children when we told them it was getting near the end of a session: Child 'C': I don't want it to end! I want to stay here for another ten hours! Child 'E': I want to stay here for another ten YEARS!