I can’t keep up with the number of autism events happening in museums. I keep a list, and it grows bigger every day. I have spoken about autism in museums at Museums Showoff and a Kids in Museums Carnival. I have been to the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and the Jewish Museum to visit their autism openings with my family. I have done consultancy work with Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing, the Jewish Museum and even Zippo’s Circus at Winter Wonderland. I have had conversations with the Museum Association and the Art Fund Museum of the Year team. I am looking forward to a conference at the Royal Academy where one of the focuses will be supporting autistic young people and their access to art.
There is more awareness, more happening now and more coming. It is great but it is just the tip of the iceberg. My daughter is 12 nearly 13, it won’t be long and we will be thinking about GCSEs, A-levels, options, choices and the future. To be honest I don’t like to think about the future too much. I deal with the day to day, the here and now, because I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, to be honest I don’t know how tonight will pan out or even the next few hours.
My daughter is coming to the end of the kind of early opening museum support that is currently on offer. Of course they are family-based programmes but she is growing up. Some events are capped at 12 or 14. What is there for the future?
This is a difficult age for museums to attract regardless of special needs. But for all the events I put on my list there is only one event that is aimed at 16-25 year olds. A late at the Science Museum called Night Owls and that happens once a year. That is a problem, because autism isn’t just for kids, autism is for life.
Teenage years are hard enough but autism and teenage years takes us to a whole different level that I am only just starting to get an understanding of.
Last year I sent my list of family events to a local autism support group called Caspa. Based in Bromley, Caspa help over 350 families in the south east with their youth groups, training and events. Their director, Helen Dyer, told me it was great to see so much going on, but what they really needed, what they were desperate for was some work experience for their young adults.
Those children who started with Caspa in 2002 when it first begun have grown up. There are many who are no longer in school or any further form of education. They are not in training, they are not getting work experience. There is nothing out there for them. It is hard to get that first job: the application, the interview, the selection process. If I think of my daughter at this age I begin to panic. How will she cope when her time comes?
We all want the best for our kids, good education, good job, fun and happiness. When I think about the anxiety many autistic people face, including my daughter, I know that the traditional route to this future is completely unachievable, without a bit of help.
There is no flexibility, no support, no chance to take your time. The RAF Museum work with Ambitious About Autism College providing work experience placements, I believe it took a number of weeks before one placement even managed to get on the premises. What work experience or job allows for that?
This is where museums have a huge role to play, offering volunteer opportunities, work experience and ultimately, hopefully, jobs to autistic people.
As a volunteer in museums I benefitted from a Volunteer Inclusion Project at the Museum of London Archive, it gave me confidence, friends, a new experience. I learned a lot, had fun and came away with great memories of my time packing pots. Volunteering can offer a supportive environment, interesting work, a sense of place, a sense of being useful and a sense of having worth.
That is all I want for these young people. I am proud to say that I will be working with Adam Corsini at the Museum of London archive and Caspa this summer on a Volunteer Inclusion Project giving six young autistic adults work experience. They are currently not in work, education or training and will benefit the most from this experience. We are going to spend one day a week for eight weeks over May and June working on archaeology from Fulham Pottery. The main tasks will be repacking, improving storage, some digital recording of decorated pieces of pottery using scanners or cameras and, hopefully, finally some public engagement to share our work at the end of the project.
This is real work, it needs doing, it will benefit the archive, future researchers and the Museum of London. Ultimately I hope it will benefit these young people. I am sure we will have our ups and downs, we have had an initial planning meeting to discuss ideas and our main concern is the logistics of travel to the archive site in Hackney. But we hope to tackle this with a pre-visit before the project starts and Caspa have already been taking photos of the archive space to share with their group.
I am incredibly excited about this project, I hope to write about each week beginning on the 19th April and share our progress. It means so much to me to make this work because the here and now for these young people is the future for my daughter.
I said at the start I don’t like to think about the future, I am scared to. Each day can demand so much of me I don’t have the energy for tomorrow. I have to do this, encourage others to get involved. Think about your local communities, the autistic young people who need help with their future, who just need a bit of opportunity. I know they have so much to give and contribute, it is an incredible waste of talent.
Museums are uniquely placed to provide a supportive environment, amazing objects and friendly people. I know because I have benefitted massively from all these things. I want that for my daughter, I want that to be there if she needs it and I want it for these young adults. I hope you want it too and will follow our progress. I hope it will inspire you to look again at your work experience and volunteer placements and provide more diverse opportunities to those in desperate need of them.
You can follow our project via tweets @tinctureofmuse and the hashtag #TeamCASPA and blogs on this website from 19th March 2017. https://tinctureofmuseum.wordpress.com/?s=teamcASPA
Autism in Museums events list – https://tinctureofmuseum.wordpress.com/autism-in-museums-events/
For more on Caspa http://www.caspabromley.org.uk/Pages/default.aspx
RAF Museum and Ambitious About Autism placements – https://www.musedcn.org.uk/2015/09/14/sen-work-placements-at-the-raf-museum/