AUTISM AND CLASSICAL MYTHOLOGY RESOURCE PACK 1 The Choice of Hercules Draft version for consultation and feedback (July 2018)

My key role in the ERC-funded project Our Mythical Childhood is to produce a set of resources for autistic children using classical mythology. In February 2018, I posted my first set of activities on my blog
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  1 UTISM ND CL SSIC L MYTHOLOGY   RESOURCE P CK 1   The Choice of Hercules raft version for consultation and feedback (July 2018)   Susan Deacy    2 Introduction and background The srcins of the project Approaching a decade ago, my academic life took a new turn. This was after a meeting with a special needs teacher at a secondary school who mentioned one thing that she and her colleagues had noticed. This is that autistic children often respond well to learning about classical mythology. After the meeting, I kept mulling over this observation and I kept wondering what it was about classical myth that might speak to autistic children. I also started wondering whether there might be anything that I could do to help engage this excitement that autistic children feel for the material. I started to make some tentative plans for a project around autism and classical myth. I was not sure whether it would go anywhere. But, as I began reading on autism and on specific therapies and as I started making contacts with relevant specialists I increasingly came to feel that the project would be worth pursuing. Indeed, all I tended to get from others was encouragement. I began a blog  MythologyandAutism  to report on my progress and share my emerging ideas. After several years, something happened that turned what was an ambition to develop materials that might be useful in work with autistic children into something tangible. I became part of a project directed by Professor Katarzyna Marciniak of the Faculty of Artes Liberales at the University of Warsaw on how the classical world is played out in children’s  culture. This project bid for and won European Research Council funding for work with several strands, one of which is the development, by myself, of a set of resources for use with autistic children. The activities The OurMythicalChildhood   project began in October 2016 and, in February 2018, I posted a first set of resources on my blog. This set is made up of a series of activities around an episode in the life of Hercules, a mythological figure whose autistic resonances are especially vibrant. The activities are focused around a specific episode in the career of this figure. This is where, in a strange place, he encounters two women who offer him a particular path in life. More specifically still, the activities are based around the episode as it represented in a particular artwork. This is a Chimney piece panel which dates to the eighteenth century and which can still engage people. See, for example, this posting from February 2017 where I share the responses of a group of young women to the image. Hercules is a mythological figure with especially rich potential in the autistic “classroom,” [1] especially his difficult journeys into fantasy lands and his comparably difficult experiences in the mundane world, where he often remains an outsider. 1 For the debate between whether there should be a    distinctively autistic classroom in the sense of a space that supports the learning of those diagnosed as autistic, or whether to support the move towards an inclusive  3 In creating these resources, I have been aiming to draw on the potential of Herculean stories in: stimulating the imagination, extending experience, developing social and personal skills, giving cultural experience and aiding interaction with others. For autistic young people, the challenges of childhood can be all the more acute as they find ways to make sense of experiences, develop imaginations, learn to plan for the future, and try to make sense of where they fit within time and space. I have been exploring what role is there for myths of Hercules as part of the quest to help change the experiences of autistic people. Hercules keeps resurfacing at key cultural moments with a presence that Alistair Blanshard articulates as follows: “Stories about Hercules do far more than just recount amazing exploi ts, they take us into the hard of the culture that celebrates them.” [2] The activities are concerned with how this potential of Hercules to express key concerns in a culture can be extended in relation to work with autistic children. The activities will do this particularly in relation to the Choice of Hercules between two divergent paths in life. This is a myth with distinguished history of expressing contemporary concerns about children.[3] Autistic children characteristically experience a range of hardships over and above those experienced by other children. They find it difficult, for example, to know what to say or do in social situations, or to respond to the subtle cues that other children learn more easily. It is especially hard for an autistic child to do the kind of things that are, or come to be, innate for others, for instance how to initiate or maintain a conversation. Autistic children will find it harder than their peers to read body language or facial expressions  –  or any form of non-verbal conversation. Interpreting things like tone of voice will likely prove difficult too. classroom that supports the learning of all, autistic and otherwise, see  Rita Jordan “A utistic Spectrum Disorders,” in Ann Lewis and Brahm Norwich eds.,   SpecialTeachingForSpecialChildren?APedagogyforInclusion  (Maidenhead: Open University Press, 2005): 110-120. 2 Alistair Blanshard, Hercules:AHeroicLife  (London: Granta, 2005), xviii. 3 Ref. forthcoming!  4 Beyond this, developing any rapport with others will likely be a challenge. And they will might well find it hard, too, to gauge what others are thinking or feeling. These difficulties in communication will tend to be compounded by difficulties over processing information. Autistic children will likely find it hard to think beyond the present and they might well find it hard to understand that the present can turn into the future. They will often find it difficult to understand the “bigger picture” in any given scenario, preferring instead to focus on particular details. Autistic children also often find it hard to deal with changes in routine, preferring instead set and repetitive patterns of behaviour. Added to this, they will characteristically experience heightened sensory perceptions such an acute reaction to noise or smell. However, during the past decade, while I have been developing the blog, understandings of autism have been developing, including an increased sense of the challenges that autistic people face and also the how vital it is not only to seek to “reach” autistic people but also to gain a deeper understanding of the world of each autistic person. This move, away from autism as something only needing be something to be pathologised as an impairment is something that I am have been seeking to explore. Indeed, a key goal is to show how the activities connected with Hercules might be able to open up new cultural and intellectual opportunities for autistic children. Hercules, the ancient hero and the hero that has been co-opted at key moments since antiquity, can offer Hope for autistic children as they negotiate challenges on their journeys towards adulthood. This is my conviction. This resource pack seeks to turn this conviction into something tangible. One thing I have been asked concerns the age ranges for which I am envisaging these activities being suitable. My answer is that I am striving to design activities that can be used with children of various ages. Then, when I have received feedback from professionals, if appropriate, I shall reshape the activities for specific age groups. For instance, I can see particular resonance  –  in light of the choice that Hercules is going to make between two paths in life  –  for those who are negotiating the particular challenges on their journey to adulthood as teenagers. The current document is comprised of an edited version of the postings setting out the activities, with some of the more reflective and digressive sections cut or cut down. If you would like to read the full versions, then do go to the blog, where you will be able to work backwards through the postings. The series of (eight) Hercules-themed activities is detailed in postings from February 2018 and there are several postings from before that where I explain the rationale of these activities. If you would like to start at the beginning, then perhaps you might go first to this posting f rom December 2017. This is the first of several introductions to the activities. My next step will be to share these activities as widely as possible. I am very open to refining or even reworking them in light of feedback from practitioners and academics and indeed from anyone with relevant knowledge, academic or practical that might bear on the  5 resources. I expect to revise the activities to meet the needs of specific users as they emerge. Flexibility is key to this project  –  as it is to OurMythicalChildhood   more broadly. Optional preliminary activity This activity details an optional initial activity  –  where independently, or with the teacher or facilitator (henceforth ‘facilitator’), the children for whom I am designing these resources are introduced to books and other resources relevant to the figure of Hercules, including this Playmobil minifigure of a warrior female: on whom more below. This activity is intended to provide background to build on an existing knowledge or to introduce the child or children to the figure that they will be spending time with. This activity is an optional one because it won’t be suitable for all.  There might be some users who will never know who Hercules is and what his myths entail. And this is fine: it is possible  –  I hope  –  to engage with the activities without any knowledge of the story, in this regard, my approach is in line with the one that Nicola Grove and Keith Park take to Odysseus, as I outlined in a blog posting f rom a little over a year ago (6 February 2017) and which I shall develop a little here. As Grove and Park say, there is an opportunity in the games they set out around the adventures of Odysseus to introduce a rich cultural experience for these whose access to culture might be challenging. But their games can also be played by those who will never reach this point. As they stress, it is not a problem if those who use them  –  whether clients, pupils or teacher and therapists  –  start with little or no knowledge. Indeed, they set out that rooting the activities in a story with such a heritage can open up cultural experience to those whose access to intellectual life can be different from those of many other people.[4] Autistic children often get engaged with classical myth. Thus it has always seemed a desirable thing for me to design activities around classical mythology. Another reason is this, and again this is something that I have written about previously, not least in this posting f rom February 2017: getting access to aspects of culture can be a challenge for some groups in society. Indeed, I write at a time when, in Classics, questions around class and accessibility are, if anything, more pertinent than ever. Accessing aspects of culture can be especially challenging for autistic people, and so activities around myths with a rich cultural resonance might be valuable here  –  and Hercules is especially appealing in light of just how deep the hero's cultural roots go. 4 Nicola Grove and Keith Park, OdysseyNow (London: Jessica Kingsley, 1996).
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