It is a big commitment blogging each week of a project and sometimes I wonder why I do it. The first time I blogged a project was right at the start of my volunteering at the Museum of London. For 9 weeks I wrote about a volunteering inclusion project that saw me repacking archaeology from a Roman villa just down the road in Keston. It is that series of blogs that really set me up on this blogging addiction.
There is a discipline needed for writing every week that has helped me a few times in the 5 years since I began my WordPress site. Those early blogs capture the joy, excitement and, in a way, the naivety of those early experiences. I can never go back to that feeling when I walked into the archive for the first time and saw all those boxes. That feeling when I held my first Roman pot sherd.
What I have realised even 5 years later is I still love working with objects. There is still a passion for getting hands on with archaeology and to be honest that makes the writing easy. The current project I am working on is with young autistic adults who are repacking 17th century fragments from Fulham Pottery. It kind of feels a bit strange for me as I am a volunteer but not as I was on that first project in the archive. I am here to help and assist, but to take part in the work too.
Sometimes I over-analyse the participants, are they enjoying themselves? Are they finding some things too difficult? Are they bored? Do they want something more challenging? Unless you know someone well it can be hard to tell if they are engaged with the work. Particularly with some autistic people who may find it hard to express their emotions. So looking for facial expressions or waiting for the group to tell you they are enjoying something in particular can be tricky as that kind of social awareness can be missing.
I remember coming for a tour to the archive before I started volunteering. There were only a few places and we would have to fill out an application form and wait to see if we got picked. All those thoughts run through your head – I really want this – can’t be late, I must look interested and capable and ask questions. How do I let them know I want this opportunity?
There are so many unspoken physical clues we use to express how we are feeling. The last few weeks have really made me think about how people express themselves and what we take for granted with communication. It is teaching me to try not to place such importance on face value and first impressions.
Just because someone doesn’t make it the first week doesn’t mean they aren’t desperate to take part. I know from experience how anxiety, even when you want to take part, can feel like an insurmountable barrier. Just because someone isn’t looking you in the eye or asking questions it doesn’t mean they are not interested.
This week for the first time I have worked closely one to one with a member of the group. I found it challenging and a steep learning curve. Not because they are autistic but because I had to modify my own behaviour. I had to find the fine line between support and help but not taking over or telling them what to do all the time. I wanted to encourage but not over praise. I wanted to get to know them a little and have a chat too.
This kind of close collaboration work in the workplace often relies heavily on the kind of unspoken social and physical cues that are often hard for autistic people to express. I am not saying autistic people need to adapt their behaviour, for me it is also about the work environment becoming more adaptable and flexible too.
Having a chance to practice that one-to-one collaboration in a work situation is part of the aims of this project. When I looked up and saw all the teams of two working well together and getting the job done it was definitely for me one of the highlights of the project so far.
This week working with one member of the group in such a close way has highlighted to me that we all need to modify and adapt our behaviour to make an inclusive environment. It can take time but the benefits are there for everyone to profit from. I may have already re-packed hundreds of bags of pottery before but there are some parts of this project that are as fresh and new to me as those early days of my volunteering back in 2013. That is why I am so glad to still be blogging every week (even though I might moan) because it allows me to capture those feelings and thoughts in the best way that I know.
For more blogs on this project please take a look here – https://tinctureofmuseum.wordpress.com/?s=teamcaspa