Neurodiversity Workshops

Jess Starns is currently delivering her Inclusive Arts Practice MA arts-based research at the Free Space Project. The Inclusive Arts Practice MA is based at the University of Brighton. Here’s a re-cap from Jess about what the group have been up to…

Our first meeting was on Monday 15th October and now we have completed four out of seven meetings so far. There are seven of us in the group, all classed as neurodivergent. The research is for participants who define themselves as having a learning difficulty (neurodiversity) for example dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, ADHD, ASD and autism. I myself am dyslexic, dyscalculic and dyspraxic.

As a group we are answering my research question through collaborating on artworks, photographs of objects found at the Wellcome Collection, photographs, voice recordings and filming taken during the creative sessions, participants reflective journal and reflections of participants through mind maps. 

Here is the research question: 

How should we interpret and curate the history of labelling people with learning difficulties (neurodiversity)?

For our first session we look at the history of neurodiversity. Previously I made a laminated fold out timeline that wraps around the room highlighting key moments. As a group we discussed words that are used to describe neurodiversity these are the words they felt are positive ‘effective’ and words we felt are negative ‘suffers’ or ‘overcame’. Through this activity we also thought of words that depend on the context and words that are debatable such as ‘autistic’ or ‘with autism’. We all felt that there are more negative words associated with neurodiversity compared to positive. After our discussion we colour coded the categories and wrote the words on luggage tags. 

The following week we visited the Wellcome Collection library near Euston Station. I requested 23 items to look at (there’s many more in the collection). We looked at zines, books, archive material and artworks. 

Including:

  • Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale
  • Eine besondere Art der Wortblindheit (Dyslexie) written by von R. Berlin
  • Peter the Wild Boy. From the Parish Register of Northchurch in Hertford
  • Drawing Heather Spears, 2003 autistic child

As it’s a library we were limited to what materials we could take into the space to we took photographs of the items we were looking at. Some of us also wrote down our thoughts on paper. Again we were interested in the language used throughout history and how society’s perceptions change. 

At the third session we were back at the Free Space Project. During this session we looked at neurodiversity in the media. I laid out a concertina book across the tables and as a group we made a collage using images of neurodivergent celebrities, characters in TV and film and newspaper headlines. We illustrated our own thoughts through writing and drawing. This looked very effective seeing a wide range of neurodiversity portrayal in the media (positive and negative) in one image. 

This weeks session we looked at medical history/current research and ‘curing’. We looked at recent research articles and were drawn to this report for inspiration https://www.autism-alliance.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/a-spectrum-of-harmful-interventions-web-version.pdf by the Westminster Commission on Autism.  Using icing sugar we made our own medicine whilst speaking about ‘curing’ and why researchers feel they need to find a ‘cure’. We put our handmade medicine into bottles and syringes and labelled them with satirical captions such as ‘cow’s urine’ and ‘dyspraxic oxygen rich vitamins’. 

Next week we will focus on how neurodiversity has been portrayed through charity.

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