During Rucksack, young people the young people take part in laptop- or iPad-based exercises and discussions, designed by us to enable them to communicate thoughts and feelings using artistic media and terminology – an artistic vocabulary that helps where conventional communication and potentially emotional conversation lets them down. Family members (parents, siblings, grandparents or carers) meet separately for day, doing some of the same exercises. They are then able to compare their approach with the results their children have produced, and there is discussion.
“Living with Asperger’s is like carrying around a massive rucksack full of rocks – sometimes people are kind and understanding, which is like taking out a rock – but often they put extra rocks in!”
Parents have been astounded at the complexity of thought that hallmarks Asperger’s. They have been able to give expression to their frustrations, and have reported better communication and understanding in the family after taking part. The young people have found new ways of expressing their frustration with their neurotypical family in a safe setting, and have developed ways of getting their thoughts and viewpoints across.
She showed him the picture she had made and said “This is how I think you feel”. His excitement was clear. He began jumping up and down. He said: “This is exactly how I feel!” She said later that she had discovered the place where her child is.
The programme aims to enable a much better understanding of what it is to have Asperger’s Syndrome, enabling a parent or sibling to stand in the shoes of their Asperger child, brother, or sister. Says the Mother of a nine-year-old with Asperger’s Syndrome “I have learned more about my child’s condition on this short course than in the whole of the time since he was diagnosed nine months ago. I have learned that for Ben ‘wobbly’ means ‘anxious’, for instance. We are developing a vocabulary. Where there was despair, there is now hope, because we are communicating. My understanding of him is growing. all the time. This course is brilliant.”
Our aim is to help the whole family find new and healthier ways of coping with these discoveries through a highly innovative programme. During the course, children and young people with Asperger’s work in one group, while siblings or family members work in another. The groups run best if the family group follows on from the Asperger’s group. Participants take part in hands-on computer workshops that we have developed. Comparisons of the two groups’ workshop outcomes enable participants to see a clearer way forward in day-to-day family life.
“I thought Art Beyond Belief’s Rucksack Course for people with autism was, in short, brilliant! What a great way to explore and express emotions through the use of visuals and colour! I learned new things about my son over the four day period and feel that I got to know him better than ever. Proof of the pudding indeed that people with autism find it easier to express themselves through visual means. I would encourage every parent/carer to do this course with their child. How often do we get the chance to engage with our children at such an intensely emotional level, in a safe and nurturing environment? Highly recommend”. Caroline Hopton
The group works on top-quality AppleMac laptops, learning the basics of Photoshop and other software, and creating Graffiti, stories and Comics. There is plenty of time for discussion in the group, as a family, or individually with the course facilitators. The sessions are relaxed and enjoyable to take part in, but produce remarkable outcomes that benefit the whole family.
“Beautiful. Not just to look at, which it is, but in the way that it engages and allows discoveries to be made in a fantastically sensitive manner. The claim is that parents and siblings can actually understand what it is like to have Aspergers, and discover the ‘place where their child is’. I was hooked on this project by the time we had got four slides into the presentation. At the end I felt it had been a privilege to have seen this wonderful project – it completely democratises art therapy. It is unlike anything else I have seen”. NHS specialist in Autism
“When we did an exercise that involved me showing how big a problem Aspergers is in my brothers life, how it affects him, and as a non-Asperger, myself. I thought “I wonder what Alex did? I was excited and apprehensive, both at the same time. When I saw his work I burst into tears. I knew that he had confronted his condition and that he understood it. It wasn’t a problem for him any more. I wish this course had been available 10 years ago.”
“This one day really gave me an insight into how he feels living with Asperger’s on a day to day basis. I only wish that I could have had a day like this while I was a teenager so that I could have been a little more understanding. I couldn’t recommend this course more to those who have siblings or children with Asperger’s, and, being a trainee teacher, will be suggesting this course to families at my school.”
Adult sister of a young adult with Asperger’s
“The course made him think. Because he is very literal, I wouldn’t ever imaging him saying … before this course. I think it has got him to see things in a different way, which was the aim of the course. It started with the apple exercise and it’s gone on to something even better. He was able to explain how he felt and I thought brilliant. It was a lot deeper than I expected.”
“This course helped him a lot. He has been a lot more open and honest”
How can you understand me? Start by asking. Obvious isn’t it? how many people just jump to conclusions about what’s ‘wrong’ with someone, instead of just talking to them…
The admission ‘we need help’ but not because we’re freaks; we are, after all ‘only a little different’.
An Asperger’s reaction to the frustration of literalism, and the neurotypical’s careless use of metaphors when talking with him.
The heartfelt wish of a 16year old young man with Aspergers
‘Autism – I do not fit this box’ The shape of my world is different to the shape of yours
A 10 year old girl with Aspergers tells us “I am special”
We are constantly surprised by the unexpected turn of Asperger humour…!
Sometimes we run a course for people newly diagnosed with ASD and it can be a difficult journey for some of them. The author of this graffiti was 52 years old and had been diagnosed a only a few months before.
This 13 year old Asperger also had ADS a found it difficult to concentrate. Once engaged however, he was able to bring his considerable talents to looking at what bullies did…
A fifteen year old girl was asked to write about something she didn’t like. With one word, and a graphic ability she conjures up the sickly feeling of envy.
Some participants enjoy the rigid grid-like work of Piet Mondrian, and we give them an empty grid and ask them to ‘make a Mondrian’ Most, like this, go over the top, less is so often more… but
Humour will out, and make sense of a part of life at least.
Colour matching is part of the course, and sometimes someone will struggle with the concepts. This nine year old boy had that sort of trouble, but managed to find engaging tools to manipulate his image, and produce a genie from a jar!
The idea that the course can be fun, even for younger (9 year old) participants is important to us as everyone is trying to communicate. Ugly buildings caught up in cloud of falling leaves tells us how young people engage with the world.
At the end of the Asperger course, parents and siblings have a day to go through the process themselves, and in that way put themselves ‘in their Aspergers’ shoes’. This message was made by a mother of an young Asperger – “Live your life to the full”. Sound advice indeed…