View Full Version : Living history with special needs child
03-20-2007, 01:46 AM
Does any one here have any experience doing living history/ reenacting with a special needs child? My son is mildly autistic and up to this point has not been verbal enough for me to worry about what his conversation is, but this year I'm not sure what to expect. He'll be 5 in May. Pretending is difficult for him (typical of autism), but it is what he needs to practice. He loves people, and can sing the lyrics from several 1850s ballads and recite poetry and will bow when introduced to strangers. I'm just not sure of the challenges of different clothing and funny food, and needing to avoid talking about Thomas the Tank Engine. Of course, if it doesn't work, we'll just stay home, but I don't want to isolate him either. Any advice?
I would also love to read any books or articles from the time that discuss children who are "different" or whatever term would have been used.
A grateful mom,
03-20-2007, 07:38 AM
Dear Mrs. Jones:
You need to get in touch with Abby Walker. She has several children who have various emotional and intellectual challenges, and as I recall at least one of them is living with autism. Two or three of her children have done living history with her, with Linda Trent and with several other reenactors as well.
Noah Briggs, with research and mentoring advice from Abby portrayed a person with Augsberger's Syndrome at McDowell 2005, and may be able to point you to period references to people living with autism or similiar conditions.
Emails can be sent to both through the member listing at the top of the forum.
Period Knitting -- Socks, Sleeping Hats, Balaclavas
Warm. Durable. Doucmented.
Atlantic Guard Soldiers' Aid Society
03-20-2007, 07:50 AM
And Abigail may be a bit slow to answer right now---her whole household is moving from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania, the result of a job transfer that saw them closing on the sale of their home and packing for a new one just last week.
But for that happy interuption (and it is a happy one, it gets her closer to us) she and her children would have spent the week in the Howling Wilderness of Louisiana with the rest of us at Banks Grand Retreat.
Last time I looked, Abigail's direct email from this board was disabled, as were private messages. If you cannot establish communication, send me a private message--I'll be happy to supply her contact information for this purpose.
Abigail's children pretend far better and more consistently than most folks, and are a joy to be around. Your child will prove no different--an equally wonderful gift in his own way.
03-20-2007, 08:10 AM
THe schools have labeled my daughter as Autistic (I don't buy it and neither does her kindergarden teacher) but she has been attending LIving History & re-enactments since she was 6 mos. She doesn't pretend to have fun she just does it, grabbing any kids she sees and playing period games; she is very fond of graces... though she often drops the hoops & plays "swords" w/ the sticks. Graces, tag, tree climbing (Want to see a father have a heart attack look up and see a 4 year old 25' above you in a tree!) every kind of make believe animal etc.
When adults ask her what she's doing she looks at them like they're idiots and says "Playing." She will be 6 in April and my wife & I bring her to almost every event we attend. She enjoys it immensely and I believe it has done a lot for her development; its also made her many friends.
THe only advice I can give is to let the child be a child.
03-20-2007, 11:08 AM
If your son has an affinity for Thomas the Tank Engine you might try to guide/train his interests towards trains in general. That way he can discuss his passion without necessarily breakintg character. This will, if I remember correctly, require discussion and preparation (depending on the severity of the autism).
Liz Clark's website, The Sewing Academy has great articles on how to prepare kids for the experience of being period-correct without sacrificing all of their comforts. It's under Auntie Maude's compendium or Liz's Stumps.
I had researched autism to portray a character at a first-person immersionist event in 2005. My research was more contemporary academic, with insider tips from Abby Walker and Nicolette Sebastian to make hism seem more credible.
As part of that research I used to have a c. 1870s short story Hank Trent had sent me about a character who was not identified specifically with autism (that term does not come about until the 1940s), but from the reading and my research it's how we'd label him. His thing was insects, he was eccentric, and an accidental disruption in his routine by the author provokes a potential "meltdown". It's quickly diverted, though.
I misplaced the story. Sorry.
Ross L. Lamoreaux
03-20-2007, 04:09 PM
I'll echo much of what was said above, as my four year old son has been on the recieving end of various "labels" from his school counselors and teachers , beginning with "mild autism", etc., but as a very bright boy who has enjoyed living history since he was about five months old, I say also, let them be kids. By letting him just enjoy period games and toys and exposing them to him outside of the reenacting arena, he now calls his reenacting duds his "camp clothes" and can't wait to get in them. When approached by the public, he tells them he is camping with mom or dad or what particular game he is playing at the time. His weak link is my playing cards, as he takes them and attempts to play blackjack, rummy, and other modern games he sees his grandpa play on the computer, so I have to keep those hidden. One of my most treasured moments captured on film was when his mother and I were doing an important living history for a group of history teachers from our county. She was interpreting the role of the washer woman at our reconstructed Seminole War fort , Ft Foster, and in the middle of her talk which was going quite well, a burst of laughter broke forth from the teachers. Thinking, "how rude for these teachers to be laughing", I looked over and there is darling Joseph taking a swim in her wooden washtub, gleefully splashing all the way. Reenacting has been a blessing and a curse sometimes with a special needs child, as I can't take the field as often as I would like, but I would never, ever trade the experience watching him interact, play, and be exposed to my greatest love, plus it opened my eyes to the wonderful new impression of being a citizen.
03-20-2007, 04:48 PM
I am truly amazed at the support and information I have recieved thus far - including all the PM's in my box! I especially identify with Mr. Lamoreaux's lament - while everyone else in our group does something like cook or wash or other demos, I "reenact" being David's mother. Someday I dream of sitting under a tree and sewing.... but he'll grow up son enough and not want to have anything to do with hanging around Mom. Anyhow, I know the experiences he has had have been good for him, and it sounds like the general advice is to let him be who he is and don't worry about it. I am very familiar with Mrs. Clark's articles - they have been re-read many times.
We call our clothes "magic clothes" and as long as there are doritos waiting for him when he's dressed, he'll put them on. :D
Now if he could just stop calling the "graces" sticks "lightsabers".....
I'll try to contact Abby Walker after a bit when she has time to breathe.
03-20-2007, 06:20 PM
Well, they are lightweight, and a sabre can be identified as a sort of "stick"--the sword sort. So, he's pretty right, isn't he?
Some unique needs are more difficult to meet than others. Children with multiple physical handicaps may not be able to go without specialized modern devices to assist with movement, for instance, and might do best a "demonstration days" indoors, rather than outdoor events. Children with sight or hearing loss will have specific safety needs that may not make "field" style events a good fit for them.
Even without the challenge of specific medical concerns, some kids are just more work at events than others. Our first two--total snap. They've been easy to adapt to events from day one. Our third... well, she's just a more challenging child, and keeping her safe at field events is far more work than with the other two, even with those four extra hands, so I, too, am "reenacting Kitty's Mom" for the forseeable future. :)
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