One of the disadvantages of volunteering in different roles at different museums is you sometimes get a clash of dates. Week 3 of Team CASPA finds me heading off to South London for an Access Advisory Group meeting at the Horniman Museum rather than heading to the Museum of London archive. I am anxious about how Team CASPA are getting on at the museum and Adam Corsini, Archaeology Collections Manager, kindly puts me out of my misery by letting me know that two of our group have travelled independently up to the archive in Shoreditch.
This is excellent news and it has made me think about what outcomes for the project are aside from re-packing archaeology and helping the archive to become more accessible. I was worried about writing a blog for this week as I was going to miss most of the day so Adam suggested we get the group to answer three questions to see how things are going and what they are hoping to get from the project. We asked the group – How were you feeling about the project before the first week? What are you feeling about the project now? and What are you hoping to achieve during the rest of the project?
It was fascinating to get an insight into our group and it highlights that what they want to get out of the project is different for each person. Too often when we talk about inclusion and involving or working with a specific group there is this misconception they all want the same thing. Not all autistic visitors want early openings, not all autistic visitors want quiet rooms. What they want and enjoy is different as they are all individuals. Equally what they might find a challenge also varies.
I was hoping this project would lead to an increase in confidence across the group, but it is interesting to see this is coming from many directions. For some it is about independent travel into London, for others it is about coping with social interaction.
At the end of our session last week I suggested to Adam we provide a kind of crib sheet, a step-by-step guide breaking down the work into processes to help everyone remember the steps to entering different information from different sources onto the labels. To me this seemed like a good idea, but Adam and I had a chat about how supportive we make the environment. If we provide lots and lots of support and don’t let the participants feel challenged in any way, are we realistically offering them experience of a work environment or even the way it might work in another volunteer environment?
I have been thinking about this a lot over the last week. I think I had slipped into ‘Mum’ mode. How can I make this easier? It is one of the hardest challenges of parenting a child with autism. When do I offer support and when do I push my child to do something or go somewhere they don’t want to. If they don’t want to go to the park that might be fine, but what about a doctor’s appointment or school? Sometimes you need to push on the things that seem inconsequential, like a walk to the shops, because then the more important things can become a little easier.
Maybe volunteering at the Museum of London archive is the place to push a little. The environment is supportive, but supportive in a way that makes it ok to make mistakes. Making mistakes, asking if you are not sure and knowing how to rectify mistakes, these things are going to be really useful in a working environment. If we provide everything written out in a crib sheet, yes we are helping, but maybe too much.
When I finally reached the archive after my meeting it was at the end of the day with about an hour to go. It was fantastic seeing everyone working away. Not only doing their own work but helping each other and working collaboratively which I hadn’t really noticed in the previous weeks.
At the end of the day we enjoyed a trip to the glass and ceramics store for an overview of pottery and ceramics from the Bronze Age onwards. I noticed energy levels had dropped and some of the group were struggling a little with concentration. I think I was more attune to this coming in at the end of the day. This is where the understanding and support does need to come from the employer side. I always underestimate how much it takes out of my daughter to be in a new environment, to travel and use public transport, to deal with sensory stimulus, to cope with anxiety, and social interaction. It is draining, it is exhausting.
It is not easy knowing what a supportive environment should be, knowing when to challenge and when not to. There are no easy answers. Perhaps the main point I want to get across this week is autistic people are all individuals. Training often talks about autistic ‘traits’; lack of eye contact or difficulty interpreting language. Whilst they may or may not be present, what we don’t talk about is that sense of achievement when you conquer a fear, break down a barrier and succeed at something new. Now that might be independent travel or being social or even finding your way to the toilets and back again. But what doesn’t change and what we all understand is that feeling of achievement. I think my outcome for this project is everyone gets that sense of achievement. I think if we aim for that then nothing can stop us.
You can read more about this project here – https://tinctureofmuseum.wordpress.com/?s=teamcaspa