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Home > News > Blogs > Voices from the Spectrum > Presenting at the Autism & Art Symposium in Iowa

Presenting at the Autism & Art Symposium in Iowa

Jill Ferguson

Earlier this year, our Senior Autism Practitioner from Art Opportunities, Claire Ritchie, and one of the individuals we support, Christopher Marley, were invited to present at the Autism and Arts Education Symposium at The University of Northern Iowa. The symposium aims to bring together researchers, practitioners, teachers, therapists, and parents who specialise in arts education for children with autism with the purpose of sharing ideas and learning more about the benefits of the arts for people with autism.

Claire and Christopher presented ‘Autism and Art – A Lifelong Journey’, which considered the value of art programmes in the happiness and wellbeing of adults with autism. Often opportunities for art and creativity end when a person with autism leaves education. Our Art Opportunities service views art as a lifelong vocation and for many of the individuals we support there, art is considered to be a professional occupation, with them seeing their art as their job. Christopher has been supported by Scottish Autism for 22 years and accesses Art Opportunities four days a week where he specialises in a range of techniques, including glasswork. 

Being invited to present at the symposium was a fantastic opportunity for Scottish Autism, but even more so for Christopher who was able to share his creativity and passion for art in his presentation while also learning from other professionals throughout the symposium. Before heading back to Scotland, Christopher and Claire took a few days to explore Iowa and have a well-earned break. Our Support Worker, Shona McLeary, from Art Opportunities caught up with Christopher when he got back about his time in Iowa and how he found the experience. Check out his answers below!

How did you get Iowa?

By airplane

How did you find travelling?

Really good. I loved the audio books I listened to and loved the banter in the airport and also going through the different areas. I really liked the different flights. I liked looking out the window at the clouds and seeing the land from the sky. I loved going from the jumbo onto the little plane. The entertainment was different on the way out to the way back.

What did you like most/least about the travelling?

I liked the experience of flying, it felt really good and I really enjoyed it. I liked getting a rest on the plane. I liked all the security announcements and them showing you how to do it. The security at the airport could be difficult sometimes though, especially at Heathrow. Once I understood what to do I found it easier.

How did you find your hotel in Iowa?

My hotel was really nice and the bedrooms were nice – double beds and a big TV! I liked how it had the weather channel on in the dining room as well. I had a really good stay. I loved the golf channel on the TV in the hotel. I liked the pool. It wasn’t too deep. I could walk right round the pool. I loved the hot tub too.

Did you eat at the hotel?

Yes, it was really good. I liked how there was fruit salad or scrambled eggs, or you could also choose different things. I kept changing what I had for breakfast. I liked the herbal teas they had too.

How was the symposium?

The symposium was really good and very easy to follow, not written as a conference or like a party broadcast. It was easy to follow because it was written from a service users point of view, basic and no Latin or translations, which I liked. I loved how it was all interactive as well and how you could play with all the new toys and equipment.

What did you think about the Scottish Autism presentation?

Claire was really good. I liked the bit I did the best. It sounded good and I had a stand up arrangement [a standing ovation], everybody stood up. It was wonderful to feel good about it.

Did you have a favourite presentation from the symposium?

I loved the one with the stars. You had to stay stars over and over and you used the torches as stars, and I got to know how to use them. We used a blue towel for the river. It was similar to the stop motion DVD we showed during our presentation. We finished the stop motion video at the end and the next presentation fitted in with that.

Did you do anything else while you were in Iowa?

We went to see all the different shops and other places. We went to a fairground and drove to College Square and went out for dinner and things. I got a new pair of shoes to bring home. I found the car very comfy and very easy to get out and in of because you didn’t have to squeeze.

I loved all the TVs in the restaurant and how you could see where the food comes in and out from. We didn’t have to go up and order, they came to our table. The food was very good and I really liked the pulled pork. I liked the menu, it wasn’t a big A4. I liked how it was all in the right order and the salt and pepper wasn’t sitting ready to be knocked off the table.

The shops, the size, you could buy a jacket and an alarm clock and food and a kettle in the same store, you could even buy a Hoover in the same shop! Almost like the idea of John Lewis, so it’s got everything in one shop.

We went to Adventureland and that was very good. It was wonderful. I had watched videos of it beforehand so I could see how the rides worked. One of them was like a lift, one like a car wash, and some rollercoasters. My day was very good, I liked it.

How would you describe the whole experience?

It was very good. I learned so much. I think America is really good and I loved how it’s not all to do with the White House and McDonald’s and Disney, or all about the President. That’s how we paint it but it’s a lot different to that. I’m very happy to have been at the symposium, I thought it was really good.

Learn more about the Autism and Arts Symposium