A guest post by author Madonna Dries Christensen
Through The Eyes Of The Differently-Abled
On a visit to Virginia, I accompanied my daughter and two of her children to a creative arts class for those with special needs. Eight-year-old Sarah has Down syndrome and six-year-old William has autism.
The program was founded by a high school student, Samantha Hall. While working as a counselor at a soccer camp for youth with disabilities, she met a girl who didn’t enjoy playing sports. She loved the arts, but this camp offered only soccer. Samantha recognized that this child’s need for expression probably affected others. After obtaining funding through a grant from the Arlington Youth Philanthropy Initiative of the Arlington Community Foundation, Samantha founded Doing Art Together (DARTT). Her simple request in the grant was for a safe place to hold classes, art materials, and volunteers. She got all three.
The free program, held in a school cafeteria, was initially for children, but now includes adults from group homes. Participants are each assigned a volunteer to guide them through the session. Parents must stay on the premises, but are asked to not help unless assistance is needed.
The young woman assigned to Sarah told me that as a member of the National Honor Society she gets credit for community service, but quickly added, “That’s not why I volunteer here. I love these kids.” Indeed, all the volunteers seemed to be enjoying the session.
The main activity this particular morning was painting on t-shirts. Sarah chose a shirt color and then sat at a table and decorated the shirt with various designs and one color, purple, her favorite. Her face lit up when she saw Connor, her best friend since pre-school. They worked side by side, moving from painting shirts to drawing and coloring.
At another table, William used an array of vivid colors to draw on paper. He is attracted to the color red. Creating art is especially helpful for children who are nonverbal, allowing them to communicate feelings and emotions.
If you frequent the Internet, you’ve probably seen the work of Stephen Wiltshire, an autistic young man with the ability to study a scene for 15 or 20 minutes and then, from memory, recreate the panoramic view in pen and ink on mural size paper. His renditions are astounding and are shown and sold at galleries and museums around the world, along with small gift items on which the scenes are duplicated. See his site at: http://www.stephenwiltshire.co.uk
Amanda LaMunyon is also a presence on the Internet and around the world. She began painting at age seven, shortly before being diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Her childhood paintings were impressions of the songs she loved. Now a teenager, she expresses herself and her faith through singing, painting, and public speaking. She encourages those with challenges of any kind to not give up on big or small dreams. She shares her talents with organizations that raise money for children’s health.
Amanda says on her Website: “It is important that we as Americans must take the lead to find the cause, cure and prevention of autism. We have the privilege and freedom in our great country to raise money and speak about our concerns. It has been my privilege to work with Children’s Miracle Network, Autism Speaks, The Lili Claire Foundation, Dr. Rosa Martinez with Strokes of Genius, and other organizations. I hope to continue to share my art and my story of overcoming challenges.”
Her work has been included in several books and she has received awards, including The President’s Daily Points of Light and The President’s Volunteer Service Award. She felt honored to present her painting of “Our Flag Was Still There” to President George W. Bush, and her portrait of President Ronald Reagan to former First Lady Nancy Reagan.
See Amanda’s site at http://amandalamunyon.com.
My grandkids delight me with their creations. Those from 10-year-old Grace, a typical child, are detailed and artistic. Sarah’s stick figures have a distinctive style; we all have wheels for feet and hands (sometimes that would be helpful). Grace says that William’s drawings are abstract. I didn’t know that term at her age, let alone how it applies to art, but look for yourself.
William, age 6
Sarah, age 8
Grace, age 10
Learn more about Madonna Dries Christensen on her website On Worlud Pond.