A story by RIG Arts
Superhero Stories (SS) at RIG’s Studio is a creative project designed for Autistic young people to have fun in a safe, nurturing environment, express themselves & meet new people. It provides valuable structure and respite for carers & participants, nurtures peer relationships, increases skills, confidence & wellbeing.
What Superhero Stories did
Superhero Stories engaged 21 young people aged 8-20 & 36 carers in Inverclyde accepting referrals from third sector organisations, carers and self-referrals to reach those who would most benefit. Numbers and demographics evolved throughout the year with returning and new participants. We delivered 36 weekly 2-hour workshops every Saturday 1.30-3.30 at RIG’s Covid adapted studio to ensure reliable structure for participants and carers. RIG didn’t directly work with carers, instead offering autistic youth an opportunity to gain independence whilst facilitating reliable weekly respite for the carers, with confidence that their young people are in a safe, understanding and fun environment.
Workshops were facilitated by a professional Autistic comic book artist and supported by an experienced young artist. A youth led approach and peer support saw participants leading on decisions & creative direction. They learned skills relating to comic book art including drawing, painting, storyboarding and character development. They also developed skills for relevant software and technology for digital art. Celebratory events showcased their work. The project allowed RIG to develop new links with organisations working with Autistic young people, a resource for future projects. The workshops continue to build a reputation locally of RIG providing services for Autistic youth, inspiring confidence in families to become involved; due to our experience, successes & strong working relationships with other local providers. We had feedback & donations from the public as a result.
The workshops developed our skills in meeting the needs of Autistic children. The project enabled young people with complex needs and their carers access to engagement and respite specific to their needs. Thanks to our growing knowledge of these needs, we have removed barriers which prevent families from accessing opportunities; with regular/reliable workshops and knowledgeable/understanding staff. SS focused on enabling participants to develop their independence, grow peer relationships and confidence to enjoy independent public activity. These developments will provide youth the life skills and support they need as they transition into adulthood.
What RIG Arts has learned
Through this year of Superhero Stories we have learned the importance of partnership working; making connections with other organisations such as REACH Autism, Bernardos and Mind Mosaic which has also helped give us the tools and resources to find and help families needing the most support, and to reach out and engage with new families in need. We have learned the most effective ways of building independence and empowering participants is by them taking the lead in workshops and having the opportunity to give input. We learned the importance of remaining flexible to be able to meet the needs of all of our participants, adjusting projects or mediums to suit their individual needs.
How RIG Arts has benefitted from the funding
Funding and support from Better Breaks has been invaluable to us in delivering the best possible service to young people with Autism and their families. Funding has made it possible to establish new partnerships with Autism organisations which has in turn strengthened our knowledge and skills in working with young people with complex needs. Funding made it possible to continue the project for a further year, establishing RIG even more in the community as a reliable and necessary resource for families and young people with Autism.
20 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.
Outcome 1 was achieved, with participants providing informal positive feedback to the tutors that the project has helped them make friends, feel more confidence in themselves and have fun and social arts activities in a relaxed environment. Participants completed ‘blob tree’ forms, which showed a visual improvement in self confidence, friendships and teamwork. The friendships formed have proved to be lasting with participants exchanging details and chatting/meeting up together outside of the workshops.
Participant ‘M’ joined Superhero Stories in the second half of the current block of workshops. She is quietly spoken and can be shy but with support from our tutors she began to open up and became eager to discuss her artwork in class. She’s attended previous RIG workshops which she reported boosted her self confidence and made her feel comfortable in attending more projects. She is very enthusiastic, and is receptive to new challenges and different approaches to her work. The lead tutor has reported that he looks forward to working with her in the new sessions and introducing her to new mediums and creative concepts.
30 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.
Outcome 2 was achieved with parents and carers having reported 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. We have found that regular, reliable respite is the best approach for the carers we work with. This period we managed to surpass our outcome and reached 36 carers in total, an increase of 20%. All of them felt very comfortable leaving the young people with us and had no worries during their respite time.
Through an online survey A’s mum had confided that prior to the workshops she was worried about him as he didn’t engage in much and lacked the confidence to try new things. Superhero Stories was recommended to him because of his love of comics and drawing and right away A’s mum saw a change in him. He had increased self-confidence, especially when his work was shared on RIG’s social media, and there was more structure to his day. This gave his mum, also his full time carer, great relief and they both looked forward to class each week; A to continue developing his skills and mum took the much needed time to do her weekly shop.
30 carers will have improved relationships with their children through improved communication and expression skills developed in the workshops, helping to make it easier and support their caring role. Carers will feel more confident to rely on local support from the positive experience of leaving "young people in a safe, nurturing environment through which they both gain more independence."
We achieved this outcome, with Superhero Stories providing support for carers by providing a regular, reliable activity that they felt confident to leave their children. Classes have improved communication skills for the young people as they are excited to share what they’ve done during the class with those at home, and given carers the respite they need to be able to effectively communicate in return as they have a renewed sense of calm after enjoying some free time.
Through informal feedback via our tutors we have learned that there has been improved communication and relationships between participant ‘M’ and her grandfather & mum. She is keen to show her hard work and new learned skills to her guardians at the end of every session, with the carers having had a few hours respite they are eager to see and encourage her work, independence and new friendships.
20 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. 30 Carers will have improved wellbeing through improved care /respite balance and reduced stress from seeing their children flourish and gain independence.
All 21 participants and 36 carers have reported improved wellbeing through visual feedback and verbal feedback to tutors which has been reflected in ongoing project evaluations. We have found that a celebratory approach, showcasing the talents of young people through exhibitions and events regularly, is effective in helping to improve confidence and reduce self stigma for young people, and to give their carers an opportunity to share in their success. RIG regularly share participant’s work on social media which gives them a real boost and a sense of pride in both themselves and their carers.
‘T’ joined the class in the second half due to a love of drawing. At first he was only interested in drawing his own characters, not really taking an interest in the course content. Our tutors were happy to nurture this and began to include more of his interests into the class allowing him to open up more. He became very talkative and felt like part of the group, sharing the characters that he had created with everyone. he continues to regularly attend and join in with group discussion.
Additional project outcome
Autistic young people have improved self-esteem and are proud of the work they have created and the friendships that they have built. Young people feel more supported as part of a group and feel less negative towards their diagnosis.
Via an online survey H’s carer told us that the class has been very helpful for him in accepting his diagnosis as it’s the first time he has been able to join something specifically geared towards him. He previously struggled in mainstream workshops, finding it difficult to connect to his peers. When he joined Superhero Stories he was surprised to find so many young people with similar interests and the same struggles. This made him feel less alone and he enjoyed being part of a group.