Whittington run film-making course for young people with Autism and Aspergerís
As part of its commitment to helping young people with Autism and Aspergerís Syndrome, speech and language therapists from Whittington Health ran its 8th annual film-making course at the Wellcome Collection in Euston.
This unique project is run in collaboration with Camden Summer University, Whittington Health NHS Speech and Language Therapy Service, and key partners such as The Wellcome Collection and The British Museum. The key aims are to deliver a socially rich experience of team work, friendship, and interpersonal skills using the medium of animation and film-making.
The annual, week-long, summer courses are designed to appeal to the interests and technical film-making skills of young people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and provide them with high quality leisure activities as well as opportunities to meet other young people with similar interests.
"Itís great to be able to meet people who are the same as me,
where we are not bullied or ignored."
At the same time the speech and language therapy service staff structure the sessions and support development in areas of social difficulty such as team working, flexibility, negotiation skills, confidence to communicate with peers/adults, and sharing interests. The films and pod-casts created during the programmes are showcased at a "Film Festival" that is open to many other young film makers, their families and interested professionals.
The programme also acts as an important training opportunity for the wide range of professionals. These includes speech and language therapists (SLTs), museum staff, the professional film tutor, volunteers and specialist youth workers.
Why are events like this so important?
Teenagers with high functioning ASD usually attend mainstream schools and may find themselves facing isolation and rejection during their teenage years. Their social communication profiles mean that they may find it hard to form positive relationships with peers, pursue activities and interests with others, or discuss anxieties and concerns.
Research shows that these young people are more likely to have mental health difficulties than the rest of the population and are four times more likely than other children to be bullied at school.
The common model of speech and language therapy service for this age group is to run social skills groups within a mainstream secondary school context. However, we have found this to be an ineffective and inappropriate approach for a number of reasons.
Firstly, teenagers with high functioning ASD are often very reluctant to be singled out for intervention, leading to high rates of non-attendance.
Secondly, they sometimes exhibit a specific profile of social difficulties that are not specific enough for the majority of the generic social skills groups provided in schools.
Finally, traditional approaches are based on contrived social situations being created so that skills can be rehearsed before application in the real world. A particular difficulty for young people with ASD is that due to their impaired social awareness they may not be motivated to develop or able to apply the skills taught in this rather abstract approach. They often face a ďCatch-22Ē situation of needing the actual experience of friendship before they can develop the insight and motivation to improve their communication skills so that they can maintain and develop such relationships.
This programme overcomes these difficulties by providing ďreal-timeĒ social skills training that is embedded in leisure activities of high interest, and with high quality resources. The young people are gradually and systematically confronted with the need to take turns, negotiate etc in order to achieve their primary goals of creating film. Over time they start to build friendships with other participants, which they come to value and are then motivated to develop further friendships.
Young people with ASD have been involved in all aspects of course design and delivery. Participants are consulted prior to the course, are asked to give daily feedback as well as complete end of course feedback. In addition, young people who wish to return are invited to consider becoming Peer Mentors to facilitate the course and support new attendees. Parents are invited to give feedback and attend the film screening.
Does it work?
Evaluation information is systematically gathered via structured questionnaires. Attendance levels are consistently high (95% +), with 100% of the young people attending rating the courses as "good" or "excellent". Parents also consistently express high levels of satisfaction and appreciation.
"To see my child happy and enjoying the company of other
children with similar interests is fantastic."
The numbers signing up for the courses have increased each year (open referral system on-line) indicating that our reputation is being circulated amongst young people and their families.
The project represents excellent value for money as it incurs minimal additional costs for the speech and language therapy service or other organisations as it is run during the school holidays when school based clinicians have more time to offer.