Super Hero Stories
A story by RIG Arts
RIG Arts provided dedicated comic book style creative workshops for young people on the autistic spectrum.
The project helped to increase wellbeing and nurture peer relationships by bringing people with similar experiences and interests together in a safe environment.
What Super Hero Stories did
The project was developed for those on the Autistic Spectrum to allow them a safe and supportive environment to express themselves. We ran two hour workshops twice a week, one on a Friday afternoon 3.30pm to 5.30pm and the other on Saturday‘s 1pm-3pm at the RIG Arts studio, in Greenock’s town centre.
The classes were very well attended weekly by 29 young people from 10 to 23 years old who were referred to us by local mental health and autism awareness charities REACH For Autism, Mind Mosaic and Enterprise Childcare. Up to 100 additional children were reached through activities at the exhibitions and Galoshans Festival.
Through the workshops participants created their own characters and developed their own unique stories through comic strips, digital artworks and short animations. They improved their communication, social and creative skills and formed good friendships. Additionally the young people created their own graphic novel which has been professionally printed and will be used as legacy for the project.
The group had two exhibitions. The first in our studio in October 2018 which tied in with Mental Health Awareness Week and the other showcase exhibition was at the Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock from February 2019 to celebrate and share the artwork with the wider general public.
Having a structured reliable time for respite for both participants and carers was mutually beneficial to both parties, providing time apart while simultaneously improving life quality for both. The workshops helped strengthen the carer/young person bond by improving both parties independence and giving the young people the tools to better express themselves and communicate in relationships throughout their life.
Parents and carers have also stated that the respite provided from these classes is invaluable, providing a few hours relaxation, knowing that their children are in a safe and nurturing environment.
What RIG Arts has learned
This project has allowed us to connect with charities and organisations that we haven't previously. These include Mind Mosiac, Community Learning and Development and Barnardos. These new connections are allowing us to engage more people with our workshops and events as well as develop other projects with these organisations.
For example, at the end of last year we facilitated a film school with Barnardos Young Carers group after the charity discussed with us their need for more arts based activities with this group. The process of delivering this project has also helped us find and develop other sources of funding as we better know how to reach outcomes and challenges that are faced.
How RIG Arts has benefitted from the funding
As noted before this funded has been very beneficial for us. Superhero Stories is one of our most loved and strongly attended projects, and through having Better Breaks funding we have secured grants from STV Children's Appeal and RS McDonald Trust to continue the project, much to the delight of the participants. We have better developed our knowledge of working with vulnerable children, particularly those on the spectrum, which has allowed us to facilitate other projects for this hard to reach group including animation workshops and a film school. We are now regularly recommended to organisations such as SAMH and CAMHS who often contact us for an update on projects they can refer their users to.
40 Young people will have developed self-confidence and communication skills to create and maintain friendships and express themselves in a fun and creative environment.
While we engaged with around 100 young people in total 29 of those came to each workshop weekly. The young people had been referred to our workshops from REACH For Autism, Mind Mosaic and Enterprise Childcare as they were interested in art and creativity but did not feel comfortable attended mainstream classes. In the first workshops we had the participants use The Blob Tree to show how they were feeling and the majority circled figures at the bottom or falling off the tree showing they were feeling anxious and hesitant. In the last few workshops we had the participants use the same tree to show how they were feeling and they all chose happy figures who were playing with friends up high in the tree. The comparisons shows us the huge difference in their confidence and happiness in the course. The young people have also formed strong kinship's with each other, attending our other workshops together and socialising outside of class.
Jonathan joined Superhero Stories class a year ago. To begin with, he was quiet and dependent on his brother, who is not on the spectrum for support. He quite quickly got used to his new environment and has become a regular attender. He creates mini comics and likes to draw them on paper, fold them and have the spine stapled, in one session, and has made many of these. His drawing ability has shown visible improvement. Something he takes great pride in and recently, he attended the class without his big brother, which is a huge step for him.
Carers and young people will have improved wellbeing through developing more self-confidence and skills, having improved relationship with each other and peers as well as maintaining an effective work/respite balance.
As well as evaluating changed through feedback forms and visual aides such as The Blob Tree, tutors have regularly noted and reported back to us the development of the young people's visible wellbeing as well as any feedback that the young people give conversationally through the workshops. Participants developed from quiet and timid to chatty and confident over the weeks, with great relationships being developed. The young people have told us how good it has been for them to find their own tribe, so to speak, and they love being up to speak to people with the same enthusiasm for comic books and movies. Even some of our older participants who are now in college have asked us if they can still come along to class as a helper as they feel a sibling like bond and kinship with the younger ones.
Martin is a full time carer for his two children with Autism, he told us 'Both of my boys love coming to RIG Arts. They love comic book art and so look forward to the end of the school week and starting the weekend off at the workshops. It's also been great for them to socialise with other kids and to get help with their art from Brian and Kyle"
Carers of 40 young people will have a better care/life balance and more independence and confidence in their child’s independence so as to enjoy activities separate from their caring role.
We gave parents and carers feedback forms at the beginning and end of the project to gauge their carer/independent life balance and how they cope. At the beginning they had no time for themselves, finding they spent all of their time and energy caring for their children. The feedback at the end was very different and showed that the carers regained more independence by being able to leave their children at class and were comfortable knowing they were in safe hands a few hours a week. This short break decreased their stress by allowing them time to relax which greatly improved their well-being. Relationships between parents/carers and young people were also improved as each party was happy and relaxed when it was time to go home.
Jennifer is a full time carer for her son, Sylvan. These classes allowed her a few hours respite a week to use however she wanted. In her feedback form she noted that as a carer she is very busy and doesn't often have time for herself, so getting this break helped her to relax. It also allowed her to spend quality time with her younger son who is often affected by his older brothers frustrations, in turn creating a happier family dynamic.
Carers will have more confidence in relying on local support and in leaving their children in a safe and nurturing environment. The project will have improved communication to improve and sustain their caring role.
As noted above parents and carers completed feedback forms at the beginning and end of the project so that we could clearly see any important changes. Many parents noted at the beginning how they at times felt overwhelmed and stressed by their caring duties and that they had to take all the work on themselves. By the end of the project parents told us how valuable the short break from caring duties has been each week in helping them cope and manage better. Due to positive changes in the young people attending, many carers also noted that home life is easier with increased communication and less outbursts caused by anger or frustration.
Parent and carer Cheryl told us 'We have greatly benefited from comic book class in many ways. My son now feels happy to express himself through art which is a breakthrough for us as he previously struggled attending other groups for art as he is very particular about what he likes to do and can struggle to express himself verbally at times" "The other children and instructors at this class have helped him to feel settled in a group and learn new skills. This has given him the opportunity to feel included and not left along which he often is. This has improved his mood at home and he is excited to continue drawing his comic book when he leaves class each week."
Additional project outcome
Young people with disabilities will have improved self worth and reduced self stigma. Through feedback and informal discussions the young people have told us how proud they are of their work and the group that they are a part of and have less negative feelings towards their diagnosis/challenges.
Shannon joined the course on 15th June 2018, she has been very enthusiastic in producing drawings and comics, preferring pen and pencil to digital art. She draws her own comics and brings them in to show the class. To begin with we found difficulty understanding her sometimes as her communication is limited, but she was very confident in repeating a word or in some cases drawing what she spoke about. We introduced her to using the light box and such was its popularity, she now brings in her own slimline led light box for drawing. She has made many comics, one of which she brought into school to show her teacher.