‘Please keep developing this idea – it’s brilliant!’ – Voices Through Art at the John Hansard Gallery [Part 2]

On August 11th 2021 we held the second of two workshops focusing on the development of our comics for supporting transitions. The first workshop on the day before was targeted at young people, while this one was targeted at professionals from varying backgrounds, including speech and language therapists and teachers. We were also fortunate that some of our research students and trainee Educational Psychologists from the University could join us.

The purpose of this second workshop was to gain feedback from this group to help inform the development of the transition materials and to encourage attendees to think about how the comics could support discussions within their own practice or research. 

We began this workshop with a brief introduction to ACoRNS and the Voices Through Art project. We provided a whistle-stop tour of what we’ve covered so far, and showed the group the first comic. We then encouraged the group, including ourselves, to draw our sidekicks in the same way as we had asked the young people to do. We felt it was important for all of us to experience what it’s like to be asked to do this task so that we are not expecting young people to do something that we wouldn’t do ourselves.

All attendees seemed to enjoy this element of the task. We introduced this exercise as a task that professionals could do with students to assist discussions about transitions. By learning what makes an ideal sidekick/partner/friend, we can identify what might help students from their perspectives. Keeping it visual can also help turn the task into something more enjoyable.

We then introduced the final two comics for feedback from the professionals, gathering a round of feedback that complemented many of the points the young people made. For example, the professionals discussed the characters chosen, and why they were the animals they were. As a team, we decided on Lee Mouse as our main character, hoping his small size might help to reflect how a young person feels moving into secondary school.

The attendees made further comments about some of the language used; the term ‘anxiety’, for example. A few people suggested that young people may not label their emotions as ‘anxiety’, instead as a feeling of ‘not feeling right’. Further, suggestive language such as ‘just say how you feel’ could pose issues for young people, as they may not be able to put into words how they feel. This is great feedback that we can use to revise the wording in the comic.

We also discussed the development of resources to accompany the comic. Attendees were enthusiastic about the possibilities and there were many suggestions including: allowing students to draw their characters, create their scenes, and even use the existing characters to communicate how the students may feel in certain situations.

Sarah proudly showing off her Dobby Donkey sidekick!

In summing up and feeding back on the day, we received several inspirational comments from the attendees, such as:

‘Such a brilliant concept – you can target so many of the worries that autistic children & all children are having in school. SLT’s [speech and language therapists] could use these comics to support children to learn how they can problem solve by personalising the comic. Please keep developing this idea; it’s brilliant!’

‘This course has helped me think more creatively to help the students with autism with transitions. I feel inspired. Thank you.’

Overall, the team are delighted with the outcome of both workshops. We have already begun utilising the feedback in refining our comics. We thank the John Hansard Gallery for allowing us to use their activities room for our workshop, New Forest Care for sponsoring a light lunch for the professionals, and all who attended our seminars and gave feedback.

The team hard at work!