Participatory arts are increasingly being used in special needs and health contexts to engage with individuals who have difficulties in communication, social interaction and to facilitate self awareness and creative expression. These creative practices are generally multi-sensory or sensory focused, interactive and play based. There is substantial qualitative evidence that creative practices impact positively on participating individuals, enhancing agency and well being but more research is needed to understand how these methods work and why. Key questions are:
How can participatory practices be analysed, documented and evaluated so that change can be measured and evidenced?
How can we identify the specific components responsible for changes in individuals?
How can we identify and develop areas of artistic ability to facilitate communication and creativity?
Research teams at the Universities of Kent, Roehampton and the London School of Education shared expertise arising from Kent’s interdisciplinary Drama/Psychology collaboration, Imagining Autism and the London based Sounds of Intent team. Both projects involved the development of coding systems as evaluative methods. The curriculum framework developed for Sounds of Intent maps auditory perception and musical development in children and young people with learning difficulties. This is a rigorous methodology that identifies six levels of musical engagement corresponding to core perceptual and cognitive abilities. These six levels are realized in three domains of musical engagement: reactive, interactive and proactive.