Young Carers Explore Autism through Dance

Young carers from the Guildford area have taken part in a dance session aimed at exploring autism.

The two-hour dance session was held as part of a day-long autism workshop, which was organised by Action for Carers Surrey. The morning session was devoted to helping the young carers to build strategies to cope with their autistic sibling and to give them an opportunity to express any worries or concerns.

Rachel Palmer from The Dance Movement in Farnham led the dance workshop and explains: “Having somebody in your family who is on the autistic spectrum can make everyday life challenging. Through a series of specially devised dance games, myself and our dance artist Nicky Norton aimed to provide the young carers with a window into the world of autism.

“We explored autistic tendencies such as repetitive behaviour, difficulties with social interaction and communication. We looked at what it was like for us to play the games, what we had to do in order to make the games work and made links for the children to understand the connections with autism. For example, we played ‘wink murder’ where, to survive, you have to avoid eye contact. This then led to a discussion about how limiting eye contact can be a mode of survival for people with autism. We also played a repeating game that was a bit like Chinese Whispers, except we asked each young person to ‘pass on’ an action rather than words. We discussed how playing this game was funny when we got the moves wrong but for a sibling with autism this could become stressful and overwhelming.

“For the last exercise, we celebrated identities. We reaffirmed that it is OK to be different and that we are all individual and do not have to be like everybody else. It was a pleasure to see everybody joining in and engaging in the exercises. From the comments we received, I would say that the session was hugely successful and beneficial to those who attended.”

Speaking after the workshop, Trudy Waite, Young Carers Support Coordinator said: “This was the first time we have included dance as a method for helping siblings to better understand what it is like for their brother or sister to live with autism. I really liked the way The Dance Movement asked the children to think about what it might ‘feel’ like for their brother or sister to have autism and how they were encouraged to use dance moves to communicate their thoughts.

“It was lovely to see how those children that were a little timid at expressing themselves at the beginning of the session really grew in confidence.”

The partnership between Action for Carers and The Dance Movement was made possible by an introduction from the Farnham Lions. Simon Moran-Smith, President of the Farnham Lions says: “Farnham Lions is delighted to be supporting Action for Carers in their work with young carers, and we look forward to helping with more specialist workshops in the near future. We are very grateful to the team at The Dance Movement for their research, work and delivery of the first workshop focusing on autism, which was such a success.”

Surrey Young Carers, which is part of Action for Carers offer ongoing support to young carers and opportunities to take part in regular activities, giving time out from their caring role.