Sefton SEN Schools launch into Outer Space for Imagining Autism Project

Sefton SEN Schools launch into Outer Space for Imagining Autism Project 

From 6 – 16 March 2017 Imagining Autism will be in residence at The Atkinson.

Over 150 children from two local schools, Rowan Park School and Presfield High School & Specialist College, are looking forward to a special trip into outer space launching at The Atkinson in March.

All of the children have varied educational needs and are participating in the three year Start arts programme run by Children & the Arts and delivered by The Atkinson. Start has been using The Atkinson’s cultural resources and opportunities to introduce the children – many of whom have never visited an art gallery before – to the pleasure and benefits of engaging with the arts. Through visits, workshops and the opportunity to create their own artwork for display at The Atkinson, the children improve their communication skills, self-confidence, knowledge and practical abilities.

To complement the work with Children & the Arts and local SEN schools, The Atkinson has invited Imagining Autism, a special project by The University of Kent’s drama department, for a two week residency ‘Outer Space’ between 6th – 16th March at The Atkinson.

Imagining Autism is a research project initiated by two drama lecturers at the University of Kent who both have sons with autism. They realised the potential  of drama and play based activity as a way of interacting with their own children to aid communication, social interaction and creativity.

An interactive pod was developed – a tent like structure containing a series of five themed multi-sensory scenic environments. These allow children to participate as players, co-producers of an imaginary world that is responsive to their interests, engaging them sensually and creatively through improvisation.

The specially trained practitioners follow the cues of the children, working through imitation and interaction with puppets, masks, costumes, props and digital media.  Lighting, sound and projection contribute to the richness of the immersive environments that are both real and imaginary.  Autistic children are free to dream and wonder, to lose themselves and to explore, while potentially finding new ways of connecting with the world around them. The experience of Imagining Autismdevelops self-awareness, improving language, social skills and empathy.

Helen Thackray, Lifelong Learning Officer The Atkinson said:

“For 2 weeks in March a pod will be built in our studio and children from Rowan Park and Presfield High will take their very own journey into Outer Space.  Each child will take their own journey from arriving in a rocket exploring the different planets, moon walking, shadow play, meeting the alien and feeding him moon rocks then returning back to earth.

This project shows the social impact of academic research on the real world and its results will have the potential to influence the practice of museum and galleries as well as the potential for future multi-sensory programming across the arts.”

Jeremy Newton, Chief Executive, Children & the Arts said:

“Children & the Arts believes that every child should have the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by the arts. That means we need to break down the barriers that prevent children with autism from accessing the arts. To be able do so, it’s vital that organisations from across the UK  come together – like in Southport – and collaborate, sharing their resources and expertise so that many more children with autism can enjoy the numerous benefits provided by the arts.” 

The Kent team will work with children across the autistic spectrum as the flexible methods and practical materials are adapted for different age groups and abilities. They will also deliver an outreach programme for families as well as training for arts workers, education and health professionals.

Professional training events take place on Wednesday 8 March, 6.30pm-8.30pm at The Atkinson and Tuesday 14 March, 5pm-7pm at Litherland Sports Park. Professor Nicola Shaughnessy and Dr Melissa Trimingham from The University of Kent will be presenting their work and discussing how their findings can be applied in a variety of contexts.

A Family Autism Café will also be available on Monday 13 March, 5pm-7pm at The Atkinson and Thursday 16 March, 1.30pm-2.45pm at Rowan High School, Litherland. These FREE and informal events are for parents and carers of children with autism. As parents of autistic children themselves, Professor Nicola Shaughnessy and Dr Melissa Trimingham will share and discuss how their findings can be applied at home as well as inviting families to share and discuss their own experiences.

Imagining Autism was funded by the University of Kent, The Atkinson Development Trust and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Christine McGregor, Chair of The Atkinson Development Trust said:

“The Atkinson Development Trust was set up to make a difference using The Atkinson and its collections, to work across communities and to be at the centre of learning for those who may not normally get the opportunity.

This project is continuation of the amazing work The Atkinson team and Children & the Arts together already deliver for SEN schools. They are a beacon of good practice for access to the arts and The Trust was delighted to be able to fund this worthwhile project. The arts is for everyone and this research proves how important it is for the health and wellbeing, confidence and communication in children with autism”

For more information on this project or if you would like to support The Atkinson Development Trust and the work it delivers please visit