Super Hero Stories
A story by RIG Arts
Super Hero Stories provided free dedicated creative workshops for young people on the autistic spectrum. The project increased wellbeing and nurtured peer relationships, bringing people with shared experiences and interests together in a safe environment to provide valuable structure and respbite.
What Super Hero Stories did
The project engaged 20 Autistic young people aged 8-20, referred from third sector organisations, carers and self-referrals.
The 2 hour workshops ran twice weekly but started in May rather than March due to the nationwide Covid lockdown. Originally the workshops were to take place in our studio but we faced a challenge as this was now unable to happen due to the covid pandemic. Following a successful pilot of lockdown art sessions we decided to run the workshops on Zoom so that participants could join from home. To supplement this everyone received material pack to keep.
Throughout the course young people developed skills in drawing, painting, storyboarding, character development, digital graphics and computer skills as well as experience in relevant softwares and technology such as Procreate.
Continuing the workshops online was invaluable to both the young participants and their carers as young people on the spectrum often have difficulties with social inclusion as well as forming and maintaining friendships. Bringing Covid restrictions into the mix further enables isolation and loneliness. By bringing together young people with the condition, in a safe home environment, they were able to continue building communication skills through shared structured experience, while gaining skills and confidence. Carers were also still able to have important (even more so with no physical school) respite time to relax and reduce stress. We have found that the regular, reliable respite is the best approach for the carers we work with.
Focusing on the creation of characters and storylines encouraged discussion and teambuilding between the young people. The youth lead approach, with participants contributing to decision making and direction throughout, created opportunities and enhanced core life skills in communication and leadership. This provided a safe space for the young people, who can feel marginalised, to participate in high quality experience and learning.
What RIG Arts has learned
Due to the specific multiple support needs of the young people we recognise that there can be problems with over-stimulation and sensory overload. Some young people are more forthright and loud than others who are intimidated by loud environments. Our tutors are trained and experienced in working with young people on the autistic spectrum and understand the challenges with maintaining an environment enjoyable for every individual young person and their needs, however each individual is different so we always have to be flexible and learn as we go.
We have found that small classes of maximum ten participants is the best way to ensure everyone receives an appropriate level of focused care and specific needs can be met. Having a relaxed but supportive environment is key to ensure everyone feels comfortable and participants can in ways lead the workshops, but there is still structure to continue providing skill learning and reaching outcomes.
As with all projects we consider the risk of low uptake, and work to create the best approach to ensuring a high level of participation. The project had taught us that it is very important to establish and develop partnership working with local organisations. By maintaining contact with employees who are currently providing support services for families and individuals with Autism we are able to target those that are most in need. These connections provide many referrals to us allowing us to engage with new people and spread the word of what is available in the area.
The mixture of new and returning students can cause a challenge in slow progress as tutors ensure every student has a chance to use all of the same character building techniques and use a variety of materials, this can cause a challenge with repeating learning for returning students. Tutors therefore had to learn to ensure that even if students are at different stages in the creative process, each young person gets tailored support and learning. The classes continued with course plans while keeping the classes balanced for both new and returning students.
Of course the biggest challenge in 2020 was learning how to continue the project in the extenuating circumstances of lockdown. Our main priority was the safety of everyone involved and how we could ensure this for the long term. Zoom workshops were new to us but provided the perfect platform to continue in the comfort of our respective homes. It took some time for everyone to get used to the set up but it became second nature and while we're so please restrictions have eased and we can get back in the studio, we are now prepared should something similar happen in the future.
How RIG Arts has benefitted from the funding
Better Breaks funding and the Superhero Stories project has given us many benefits including strengthening partnerships and our reputation locally, engaging new families/young people, building on our skills and knowledge in teaching young people with additional needs and being able to explore online platforms for tutoring. Having the chance to build our skills and expand to online tutoring was one of the biggest benefits for us as it's something we hadn't done before. It allowed us to not only continue our services and still reach participants but also manage to keep our small business afloat in challenging circumstances.
40 Autistic young people, will feedback that the project has helped them to enjoy their free time, build peer relationships and relax as well as improving self confidence and communication skills in a fun social environment.
Due to the covid pandemic the workshops were online via Zoom and we found it difficult to engage the 40 young people stated, instead we had smaller concentrated classes and reached 20 young people throughout the year. The lower numbers meant the tutors were able to focus on each individual, something that can be difficult when working remotely. Feedback forms were sent out to young people at the beginning and end of their engagement to measure their enjoyment, sense of improved self esteem and relationships. We also regularly engaged with participants to get any comments or anecdotes informally, and there was an open atmosphere at workshops so feedback could be relayed to the tutors throughout the project, which were then recorded and relayed to the project manager alongside the tutors own assessment of participants visible enthusiasm and friendships developing. All results gathered overwhelmingly showed an increase in confidence, skills and relaxation.
A was new to our projects before Superhero Stories and she was referred to us by her carer who advised that she was very shy and nervous so starting via Zoom was actually easier for her. In the first few weeks she was quiet but continued to attend regularly. Over the weeks the tutors saw a vast difference in her as she began to readily engage in discussion and thrived in showing off her drawings which she would work on in her own time. She has passed on suggestions of what she'd like to do at future workshops and she is keen to start workshops in the studio where she can have fun with her friends face to face.
40 carers of young people on the spectrum will have had a chance to enjoy more free time, nurture a better care/life balance and gain more independence as well as more confidence in their child's independence.
Just like with the young people, surveys were sent out to the carers at the beginning and end of the project to gauge the positive difference that engagement had on their lives. Due to the smaller number of participants, we reached 25 carers instead of the proposed 40. However the respite time provided proved invaluable at a time with such high stress and anxiety for all members of the family. From our formal and informal feedback carer's told us that the workshops provided some of the only time during the week which they were getting for themselves and could use to relax or continue with tasks that they hadn't had time to do before. We've also heard it gave them more time to enjoy with other members of the family such as partners and other children leading to an overall happier home life for all.
J's children have attended a few of our projects over the years and always enjoy using creativity as a way to express themselves. As a full time carer to both of her children she doesn't often have time for herself and lockdown was very challenging as her free time was practically non existent. She has told us that Superhero Stories came as a relief to her as she got some much needed respite time a few hours a week, something that she readily looked forward to. Other positive feedback from J was that she had an improved relationship with her eldest son who doesn't require as much care and so they don't often have time to spend just the two of them. With X occupied this gave them a chance to have quality time together and also gave J some peace of mind that she wasn't leaving anyone out.
40 carers will have improved relationships with their children through improved communication and expression skills developed in the workshops, helping to make easier and support their caring role. Carers will feel more confident to rely on local support from the positive experience.
As it can be at times difficult to engage young people on the Autistic spectrum, many of the carers involved in the project had been unsure or unmotivated about contacting local support groups and organisations. This left them feeling like they had no help and like it was their sole responsibility to occupy the children's time. Superhero Stories gave both the carers and the young people more independence both during and outwith the workshops as the participants wanted to continue practicing their art in their own time and finishing things they had started at class. This gave carers more confidence in leaving the young people in their own space and were not worried about them during the reliable, regular activity of the workshops. As a result of increased confidence a number of the Superhero Stories participants have attended our other projects and have also engaged with organisations such as Reach for Autism and Barnardos.
Like J, A has two children with Autism but this was her first time engaging with a RIG Arts project. She found out about Superhero Stories through a friend and thought lockdown would be a good opportunity to try something out. Through a feedback survey A told us that her boys hadn't previously accessed support due to low confidence from both them and herself. At the end of the project she expressed how relaxing and helpful the workshops had been, improving the boy's overall mental health and boosting their interests in creativity. They have also eased her worries and given her piece of mind in leaving her children to enjoy themselves for a few hours a week. Due to this both children have now joined three of other RIG Arts projects and have expressed interest in more.
40 Autistic young people will have improved wellbeing through engagement in positive activities and developing peer relationships. Young people will have increased self confidence, and improved creative, communication and social skills. 40 Carers will have improved wellbeing through improved respite
Online feedback forms were sent to participants and carers at the beginning and end of the project so we could better gauge any positive developments. We also encourage the young people to use the Blob Tree as a visual indicator with how they were feeling at various stop points. In the feedback forms we used 1-10 scales so that attendees could rate how they were feeling in a simple and straightforward way. With 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest we found that confidence both in communication and skills had steadily increased from 1-4 at the beginning to 7-10 at the end. The young people also enjoyed continuing to connect with one another and several of them exchanged numbers so that they could chat outside of the workshops. Formal and informal feedback from carers that their care/respite balance had improved and they felt more positive from the experience through having time for themselves and seeing their children have fun and make friends.
H joined the workshops during lockdown and his parents advised us that he had been struggling with isolation and the thought of social situations was cause for anxiety. Feedback from both H and his parents was that the Zoom workshops allowed him time to relax and have fun whilst still having control over his environment. He has expressed interest in constructing models and with encouragement from the tutors he has decided to attend in studio workshops so he can practice 3D creation.
Additional project outcome
Young people with disabilities will have improved self worth and reduced self stigma.
A is very shy and can be self conscious due to his difficulty communicating with others. At the beginning of the workshops he joined each week but turned his camera and mic off, after a few weeks he started to turn his mic on to join in in discussions and would email us his drawings. After a few months A turned his camera on and although quiet at first he quickly warmed up and started sharing his many sketched during class. His growth in confidence is clear to see and he is enthusiastic to continue workshops with us.