Wednesday, June 22, 2005

I’m involved in this new programme called TAP (Teachers and Artists in Partnership) as an artist and recently observed a teacher named Clive who works with resident adolescents with mental disabilities at Guy’s Hospital. Below are a few words about what I experienced. If you’re interested in finding out more about TAP, check out the website


I felt I should be quiet and hold very still while John* made up his mind about whether or not to join in the ‘social skills’ game. John moves slowly and goes back and forth to the door to leave three times before taking a seat at the table with the nine others. Clive asks him a question and he jumps up out of his seat to leave again. Fidgeting constantly, John moves away to sit at the computer and starts rapping. Clive has already told him he cannot play on the computer but he has switched it on. Clive invites him back to the table and John leaves the room. The atmosphere is relatively peaceful until John returns and begins banging on a drum. The others ignore him.

There are three staff, one Portuguese-speaking translator and seven students including John (who continues to wander around the room talking to himself). John is the second most vocal person in the room, after Clive. Suddenly John comes to stand directly in front of where I am sitting, watching me write. I acknowledge him by saying “Hi” and waving my hand at the same time. I reflect on how I did this and how in any other situation I would probably not have gestured with my hand. John leaves the room but returns a second later to start banging on the drum. The other students pay no attention and a member of staff coaxes him out into the corridor. The rules of the game have just been established and the game begins. A new student joins the group named Michael. I ponder away at how quiet they all are compared to other teenagers I know. Thinking of an answer takes a long time for Julie and a staff member feeds her possible answers to the question. She bites at none. The social skills game seems to be geared at getting the students to recognise physical qualities that accompany emotional states. One aspect of the game is that they say things with a particular emotional colouring. Clive is supportive. John pokes his head back in. I want to look at him but I don’t want to scare him off. I test the situation and look up at him and the door slams shut.

I reflect upon a family member who has had mental troubles and wonder what the cause is behind these adolescents’ conditions. John returns to bang on the drum. I look over at Julie. She appears just like any other teenager: far too much eye make-up, body language somewhat withdrawn with a witty comment now and again about things she doesn’t like but very slow to respond to direct inquisition. A new student enters named Tina and I wonder if this is the student that Clive told me about who had spent the morning in intensive care because she wouldn’t stop screaming. John enters, rapping again and sits down at the computer. Then leaves. Then enters. Then leaves. I notice that Simon, a student that Clive described to be earlier as practically mute, seems a favourite amongst his peers. Clive remains encouraging and wraps up the session.

*All names used in this document are fictitious in order to protect the privacy of the students.

Ultimately as part of the TAP programme I will be making a movement/dance project with a teacher also taking part in TAP. I'll keep you posted as more evolves...


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