Beyond Autism Awareness Month, from a Teen’s Perspective

Posted by Glen Sheppard, Sep 19, 2018 0 comments

Every April is Autism Awareness Month. While April is a special time for raising awareness, the mission of the month doesn’t end when the calendar turns to May.

The High Museum of Art is working on developing inclusive programs that will support visitors on the autism spectrum all year long. (Learn more information about access and inclusion at the High here.) In 2016, the museum began partnering with Tapestry Public Charter School to pilot inclusive programming for students on the autism spectrum.

Students from Tapestry Charter School participate in an inclusive docent tour as part of a pilot program at the High Museum.

Tapestry’s mission is to “offer an inclusive, individualized learning environment that is academically engaging, both for neurotypical students and those on the autism spectrum, and to create a positive school culture that empowers all students to take possession of their innate talents and become creative builders of their own future.”

Through this program, the museum works closely with educators at Tapestry to create curriculum-based, student-relevant guided tours and interactive workshops. They receive invaluable feedback from both teachers and students. One such student is Glen Sheppard, a ninth-grader at Tapestry who has participated in the program for the past two years. Glen wrote about his experiences at the High, and we’re thrilled to share his thoughts with you below.

Hello, my name is Glen Sheppard. I am on the autism spectrum and am currently a 9th grade student at Tapestry Public Charter School.

My school has had a unique partnership with the High for the past two years, which has made it possible for every student at my school to go on a field trip to the museum each year.

These trips were planned to coincide with what we were learning in the classroom. These visits are always very beneficial and impressive to both me and my peers. It is such a valuable experience because it exposes us to many different artworks. These artworks expose us to both the beauty and culture of art. This helps me and my peers to gain a deeper understanding of what the beauty of art is. The art helped me gain a greater understanding of the world around me because the High shows that art has a spiritual value in addition to an aesthetic value.

The High offers an inclusive environment not only to those on the autism spectrum but to neurodiverse students in general. On all our visits there were fidgets and headphones available to students who needed them. There were small private alcoves for those students who might feel anxious or overwhelmed and need a sensory break. I also really enjoyed the “touch items” that were available when we looked at the art pieces. These items allowed the students to have a full sensory experience and experience the art in other ways besides just looking at it. This helped give us a more in-depth experience.

While learning about an artwork, students can interact with related tactiles, or “touch items.”

The staff at the High were equally impressive as the artwork itself because they encouraged me and my peers to create art through a hands-on workshop that was connected to the exhibit we saw, even though many of us had never even attempted making artwork.

In conclusion, the visit to the High was an invaluable experience to the students of Tapestry. It exposed us to the different artworks of so many cultures, and that caused my peers and me to gain a better understanding of the beauty of art.

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