Playing A/Part draws upon the team’s expertise in autobiographical performance, interactive media/visual ethnography in conjunction with mixed-methods evaluation/analysis and the experience of the autistic community. We will co-produce creative and evaluative tools using embodied and participatory methodologies to better understand how autistic girls perceive themselves, how they sense and engage with their social and physical environments and how self-expression and self-perception through participatory arts affects their well-being. Our participatory approach responds to concerns that ‘the degree of community involvement in UK autism research remains close to the bottom of the ladder’ (Pellicano 2014). Working with small groups (6-8) of autistic girls and adolescents the project involves a series of practical workshops using participatory arts in different educational and community settings.
Our approach is organised as three discrete but overlapping Workstreams, over three years, which flow across the project:
Workstream 1 (research question/s 1) – Articulating the experiences of autistic girls: creative technologies and tools (Etic)
In order to identify and describe the lived experience of autistic girls (research question/s 1.1) and characteristics (research question/S 1.2) a programme of practical workshops will develop tools and technologies suited to investigating aspects of identity and perception.
Phase 1 – Development Programme pilot (Limpsfield), the tool kit will be trialled with students (11-16) to ensure suitability for the age and ability of Phase 2 participants. The tool kit forms the basis for the three practical iterations over different time scales in educational and community contexts in Phase 2. These are a Schools Trial Programme, Community Studios and a continuing programme at Limpsfield to develop a participatory arts Peer Mentoring model (see WS3 under Evaluation tab).
Phase 2 – Schools Trial Programme: 10-week programme of 2-hour workshops (20 hrs) in schools (special and mainstream units); 6-8 participants in 8 comparable settings, to investigate identity, perception and well-being using a full range of evaluation measures.
Community Studios: feasibility trial 5-day intensive programme of ‘Studio’ residencies (20 hrs) to test the feasibility of translating the approach into community contexts, initially working in two university settings (Kent and Surrey) with 16-18 year olds, before the final studio in an arts centre venue. These are fed by WS3, the on-going phase 2 workshops at Limpsfield, the creative tool kit and peer mentoring approach, working beyond schools and training Further Education students at a transitional development point. It also engages HE apprentice practitioners in training as future arts workers.
A Delphi survey addressing research question/s 1.3 will be conducted in conjunction with a literature review in year 1, engaging a range of disciplinary experts (including members of our Steering Group, Advisory Network, Consultants) in consideration of the experiences and characteristics of autistic girls, derived from clinical, autobiographical, creative and critical accounts. Symposium 1 (July 2019) launches the Delphi and contributes to research question/s 1 as an interdisciplinary 2-day forum.
Interdisciplinary approach: more than the sum of its parts: Integration of different methods of data collection and analysis across drama, media arts and psychology will enable us to more effectively elicit, describe and communicate the experiences and characteristics of autistic girls than would be possible through any one discipline on its own. For example, our investigation of how autistic girls engage with their physical and sensory environments will bring together: inductive thematic analysis of their own accounts of this; systematic coding and analysis of relevant behaviours from video documentation; analysis of appropriate “significant moments” from different perspectives; and the production of an immersive installation in the final stage of the project. The latter will enable the autistic girls to work as artists in articulating their relationship with the world around them and communicate this to the project’s publics and beyond. Collectively this will allow us to move beyond third and first-person perspectives towards a more ‘intersectional understanding of participation’ (Harpin & Nicholson, 2017).