Andrea Stahel, Community & Access Programs Manager, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
As many of us appreciate, art-making can be incredibly meditative and in difficult times, a source of solace. This year has brought new challenges for children as they adapt to changes in their education, family and social lives. Children can often find disruptions to their daily routine challenging, but for autistic children this can be especially distressing. In response to this unique situation, we wanted to demonstrate how art-making can be used to support autistic children.
Through the National Gallery of Victoria’s partnership with La Trobe University, we were fortunate to collaborate with the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC), Australia’s first centre dedicated to autism research.
As Professor Cheryl Dissanayake, Director & Chair, OTARC describes “We all rely on resources to scaffold our knowledge and activity. Having an art resource that children have access to, can inspire them and be helpful for parents and teachers as well to guide children into an activity that can be fun for them. Creativity and imagination are core to human life, accomplishment and wellbeing.”
This collaboration sits at the intersection of science and art and demonstrates the powerful possibilities that art and museums can have in supporting wellbeing. The result is an activity sheet and supporting guide for parents and educators inspired by contemporary textile artist Tammy Kanat’s work Harp, 2019 in the NGV Collection. The resource includes two activities that can be tailored to children’s individual abilities, sensory profiles and interests.
Welcoming all visitors, including people with autism, is a priority for the NGV. Following consultation with our local autism peak body, Amaze, we introduced a number of initiatives to support autistic people’s visit to the Gallery. We offer regular out-of-gallery-hours Relaxed Sessions with reduced crowds and stimuli, social stories, sensory maps and access aids for free hire including ear plugs and self-regulation devices.