A process evaluation of an innovative inclusive performing arts project “Experience Collider” for teens with multiple support needs, within a quality of life framework

Ms Nada Murphy1, Ms Amy Epstein1, Ms Simone Flavelle2, Associate Professor Helen Leonard1, Associate Professor Jenny Downs1

1Telethon Kids , Nedlands, Australia, 2DADAA Ltd, Fremantle, Australia

Elements necessary for meaningful social and community participation include having fun, experiencing success, belonging and learning. This study evaluated participation in a circus program for teenagers with intellectual disability.

The “Experience Collider” program involved the combined efforts of Circus WA and DADAA Ltd, the peak body of arts for persons with disability in Western Australia. Teenagers with intellectual disability and multiple support needs including mobility, communication and social challenges participated in dance, music, drama, circus and video activities alongside teens from Circus WA. Activities included 1) developing skills to demonstrate how the teenager was interested to engage, 2) more complex group activities to develop the performance schedule, and 3) a live circus performance. Observations across the course of the program were recorded, using narrative recording of events coded using a quality of life framework.

Fourteen teenagers with intellectual disability participated alongside circus teenagers in a program extending over 18 months. Within a creative team environment, positive social interactions, physical activity and emotions were predominant with some withdrawal from social interactions and negative emotions occurring. Independent and autonomous activities consistent with the purpose of the session were increasingly observed showing a willingness of participants to contribute ideas and actions.

Evaluation demonstrated that not only can teenagers with intellectual disability contribute variously in individual ways to a unique and innovative performance space, they also gain a great deal of enjoyment, through a sense of achievement and in the social interaction with others in the troupe.


M App Psych (Murdoch). Nada joined the Child Disability Team at Telethon Kids in 2011. She has participated in the International Rett Syndrome Phenotype Data base and associated studies, the development of the QI -Dis, a tool to measure Quality of Life in Children with Disability, to include children with Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Rett Syndrome, and an evaluation of the Standing Wheelchair for boys with Muscular Dystrophy.  Her previous experience with families and children is extensive through private and public sector consultancy as a Senior Clinical Psychologist.  Nada is a member of Artsource WA and a working artist with special interests in how the arts impact on participant well-being.

In this project, a process evaluation of the innovative arts project conducted by Arts practitioners from DADAA Ltd and Circus WA, and in collaboration with other team members Nada has developed direct observational process for investigating Quality of Life of participants in situ, to reflect on participant enjoyment and manner of participation in the creative activity of teens with multiple support needs.

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