Podcast Ep 5 - My progress in science, expressive arts, PE, and more
Hi there, and welcome to episode 5 of the Stephen’s Evolution podcast. I’m Stephen McHugh, your host. I have Asperger’s, a form of autism. Every fortnight, I make recordings about my lived experiences with the condition. At the moment, I’m recording a number of episodes, where I talk about what helped me to progress during my school and education days.
In the last 2 episodes, I talk about what helped me to improve my language and communication skills, along with the measures used to help me improve my understanding of mathematical concepts, and applying new knowledge to given problems. So, if you’re a parent or teacher of any autistic children, you might want to check out those episodes for tips.
This is the third and final episode concerning my primary school education. During this episode, I shall talk about what helped me in other subject areas, including science and technology, creative arts, physical education and foreign languages.
Before I get into the main content, a reminder that there’s content which mentions tadpoles. This might remind you of sensitive and awkward topics, and may therefore be unsuitable for children. You can skip this section if you wish. Please consult the show notes for this.
When it came to creative arts and drama, simple roles were found for me during school plays. One example here was Oliver Twist where I was one of the workhouse boys. All I had to do was shout out, ‘Fabulous food’. I also took part in another school play, ‘The Wizard of Oz’. This particular play was musical, and I was chosen to be part of the orchestra. One teacher at the time had spotted my good musical ability.
With music, I developed my piano playing skills, learning to play difficult compositions by famous composers like Beethoven and Chopin. I had become fascinated with the variety of sounds, and greater range of notes played. At times it would feel like a sense of adventure, like going to explore new and interesting places.
One thing I would discover here, was I had a skill known as perfect pitch, that is being able to tell you which note was being played on a musical instrument without me looking. I found this was quite beneficial to me, as it would be able to help me to play the right notes for any tunes that I liked on TV, especially when I didn’t have the written music available to me.
One of our primary school teachers colourfully decorated our classroom when we did a theme on colour. My interest in colours seems to stem from blowing bubbles at a young age, the rainbow spectrum produced by prisms. Other things I did with colours included mixing different colours of paint when doing various paintings, and mixing coloured filters over torches to make light of different colours.
I developed a keen interest in shapes, and would become interested in how various shapes could be put together, to make newer, and sometimes, larger ones. I would also enjoy trying to spot many different coloured patterns on wallpapers, carpets, and when looking through kaleidoscopes.
I did not consider myself to be gifted at drawing and painting. I often resort to tracing paper to try and get the right shape of the object I wished to draw. Having said that, I would feel encouraged and inspired by a programme called Hartbeat hosted by Tony Hart, who would gently encourage you to have a go at doing some art work of your own.
Soon enough, I felt inspired to design my own garden using different colours. I would use green card for the grass, blue card for a pond, and other different colours for flowers. When I took my design into school, the rest of the class felt inspired to produce garden designs of their own.
Science related topics would quickly catch my attention too. I was keen to discover more about the world and the universe around me. In my primary school reports, words such as investigative, inquisitive, explorative, and enquiring, were used to describe me in science. I enjoyed recording fascinating scientific facts, especially when it came to space, including the moon, stars, and planets. I would do my own personal projects on these at home.
I would develop an appreciation of natural things, and show a great interest in the nature table. I quickly became fixated on how living organisms survived and thrived in water.
Gadgets, automated systems, and related technologies caught my eye too. With automated systems, I wondered how computer processors could measure, and know how hot things were. When travelling on the London Underground, I would wonder how could it be possible for computer systems to know when a train may next arrive.
During my last year of primary school, we collected tadpoles. This activity got me excited. I looked forward to recording and seeing how they’d develop into frogs over time. Sadly, I didn’t get that chance, as the tadpoles died a few weeks later. Around that time, we went to a local park where there was a pond. This helped me to appreciate the fact that ponds are the natural environment for tadpoles and frogs to live, survive and thrive in.
The natural world reminds me of a time when me and my class were invited to do projects on countries of our choice. I chose Australia, since it is so far away from the UK. I would imagine myself venturing out to a new faraway undiscovered world to see new living things such as kangaroos.
Topics linked to science and technology encouraged the inquisitive side of me. I would wonder how deep seas and oceans were, how hot things like lightning are, how rainbows formed, how the moon shone, how things float, and how some sink. Building things with building blocks and Lego would enable me to have an insight into how things balanced.
Another interesting activity included being introduced to signs of the Zodiac, which happen to be patterns of stars in the sky. Here, we had to match up their Latin names, with the English translations, such as Gemini to the Twins. At the time, this proved difficult for me. In the years that followed, it began to make more sense, helped by the fact that I put in the time and effort to learn the locations, and various star patterns in the sky, along with names of stars, including times of the year, when they’d be visible in the night sky.
When it came to physical education, I didn’t see myself to be the most gifted one from a sporting perspective. However, I didn’t let that stop me from participating in other activities during physical education lessons at school. I could develop good ball sense, team working, and social skills over time. I would enjoy smaller sided, simpler, and less strenuous activities more, since I found I could get more out of them.
In later years in junior school, there was an improvement in my cooperation during physical education sessions, compared to my earlier years in primary school. During my last 2 years in primary school, we’d have half hour swimming sessions once a week. I ended up in the beginners group. Prior to those 2 years, I thought it would be quite an achievement to swim a width, let alone one length.
As we became more competent swimmers, we were introduced to deeper waters, which created some degree of anxiety in me. Going swimming with my family helped me to an extent gradually overcome my fear of the deeper waters. This, I believe, helped me to relax, and therefore realise my true potential, especially under more of the way of encouragement. Once the fears and uncertainty lessened, I would gain the confidence to swim further.
I’d like to now talk a bit more about my final year in primary school. Towards the end of that year, I attended basic French sessions at lunchtime. These sessions helped me and other pupils in my year to get enough of a foundation for developing our knowledge of the french language further at secondary school.
During my time at primary school, I admit to knowing very little about foreign languages. In fact I didn’t really understand that they existed at all. Throughout the lunchtime sessions, we learned how to reply to such questions like what is our name, how old we are, and where we lived.When we got onto numbers in French, this brought back memories of my first year in junior school. I remember thinking back to those times, I realised we’d studied numbers in French.
I was also allowed to carry out my own personal projects on trees and music. This was different compared to what the rest of my class did. My interest in trees came about when I came across all kinds of fascinating facts in the Guinness book of records, regarding the tallest, widest, and oldest trees on Earth. One thing I did during my project on trees, was trying to work out how tall they were in my garden, by measuring the length of the shadows they’d cast on the ground.
We did what was known as the 11 Plus, the result of which determined which secondary school we’d attend. If you passed it, you could be allocated a place at grammar or a state school. If you failed, you’d more than likely end up at a state school. Unfortunately for me, I was one of those who didn’t pass. As it turned out, I didn’t fail that badly. I had done well in the maths section, but not quite as well in other sections, particularly the language one, which highlighted my main difficulty. Non verbal reasoning interested me, since it involved studying sequences and patterns of shapes and objects. Here one had to work out what may come next.
Looking back, I believe the school adopted a sensitive, sympathetic, and structured approach to my needs, abilities, interests, and progress. I felt that it also inspired new, interesting, and creative ways for me to explore, and develop my attitudes to making progress through many interesting class activities, and other educational opportunities. All of this ensured I would achieve as much as possible, not just academically, but from a social and spiritual point of view as well.
It is very important to learn about how to be sensitive to the needs of others, understand the differences between right and wrong, and how to grow into being responsible people. God is always there in times of difficulty and uncertainty, to reward us when we do what’s right, and, more importantly, to forgive us whenever we do something wrong.
My headteacher at the time had a belief that education should be for all, and to expand and ensure learning opportunities and appropriate support to those who appeared to be struggling the most. Schools should try to see the potential in children, and provide opportunities linked to whatever they may be good at or interested in doing. Schools should also be places where everyone should feel connected with it. This should include staff, children, and parents as part of the wider family.
My headteacher ensured that my primary school was a values based community. A school is a place where everyone within the community recognises the importance of things like honesty, loyalty, kindness, friendship, and respect. This, I believe, helped me to settle in, and the other children accepted me for who I was, even though I was seen to be different.
And that’s all there is for this episode. Thank you for taking the time to listen to this episode if you’ve made it this far. If this episode resonated with you, or you found it useful in some ways, why not consider sharing it, and subscribing to this podcast. And why not consider leaving a rating and a review on a platform of your choice, including Apple, Spotify, Podchaser or Podcast Addict.
You can find a link to a page towards the footer of my website stephensevolution.com, where you can sign up to receive news of newly released episodes. You can also find links to me on Twitter and Instagram at the footer of my website as well. Goodbye for now, and I’ll talk to you all again soon on the next episode, when I shall talk about my educational experiences at secondary school.