I recently had the adventure of taking a parent & child class in hand building clay at Cape Coral Art Studio. Every Saturday morning for 8 weeks, Alex and I hopped in the car and dragged ourselves to the studio to play in the mud.
Our teacher, Teri Aldred, was fantastic. She is a talented clay and mosaic artist and also works as a substitute teacher in our local school system and she has experience teaching other parent-child pairs with Autism.
Class was a challenge, but definitely gave me insight into some of the quirks and challenges Alex has in a classroom situation, which I’m not privy to at home, and those insights were definitely priceless when writing his IEP for this school year.
We made a couple of things. Our first project was a bowl made by slump forming. Alex put “m” all over the outside of his, as he decided the bowl was going to be for something tasty that would make a person exclaim “mmmm”. I put his name and he stamped mine on my bowl, and we used netting from a bag of oranges to make sort of a fishing net/fish net stocking texture. I learned that Alex cannot sit and listen to directions and understand them in a lecture and then hands-on sort of a setting. He was hugely distracted by the stereo in the classroom and all of the features and buttons.
So the next week we got to class a few minutes early. We took a photo of the stereo system on my iPod touch (we aren’t cell phone people…no need for them.) so he could zoom in and look at all of the features after class. I then took notes of each step Miss Teri spoke of. Due to low muscle tone, Alex has some trouble manipulating a rolled slab of clay into anything more than a pile, and with my weakened (RA fun! I’m working on regaining my hand strength and dexterity now that the joint swelling has subsided some) hands I wasn’t exactly adept, but we made do. So I wound up rolling him a footed cylinder and he decorated it. I then went to work carving my footed pot.
Alex needed to move more so he puttered around the classroom, playing with a sponge and water. I decided the goal for next week would be to get him to not play with the sponge during class. He really enjoyed the tactile experience of the sponge and water, particularly after handling red clay and having dried out and dusty feeling clay hands. I promised him his own soft sponge at home, if he only used it when he was supposed to in class (and not to dribble over our work when we were waiting for coats of glaze to dry)…
Our bowls were bone dry, so Alex gently sanded his with a little square of scotchbrite pad, and I used my super pointy stick thingy (the technical term) to etch and carve sharper details into the sides of my bowl.
Then the inevitable happened.
It slipped from my hands and broke into a pile of dusty chunks. Our teacher was so upset. I didn’t even flinch. I’ve been dropping things my whole life. One of the reasons I chose to work primarily with vintage plastics/phenolics way back when is because of my unpredictable hands.
She told me I could glaze the pieces anyway, and use them for a mosaic. So all was not lost.
All in all, I learned so much about Alex and his learning style. I thought I knew that stuff pretty well, but add in actual real life scenarios with other kids and teachers and a new set of rules in a new location with all new sensory stimuli, and it’s the same beast, but it’s in high definition.
Alex and I had some great conversations going back and forth to class, particularly about how he wasn’t focused and wasn’t fully engaged and how he was not really enjoying the class but he was enjoying spending time with me. We realized that the reason class felt more stressful than we anticipated, is because we were basically working as parallel entities. Two projects, two people. Side by side. Two Aspies and parallel play. Not exactly a rarity, is it? To keep him engaged, and to enjoy more of the cooperative aspect of the experience, we decided to work on one project but make all of the decisions together. If I say that the surviving bowl is his bowl and that he made it, he corrects me “It’s our bowl, Mama. We share.” So sweet.
I was hoping to pick up another class with him, but he doesn’t want to do clay anymore.
The end result is that we have a gorgeous bowl on our kitchen/work table and two footed pots and a better understanding of each other. And we have shards. Lots of shards. When we have a yard and garden or our first real (non-condo/apartment) house I’m going to use them there. Someday…. I hope.