A Mixed Grill of Art and Autism

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A view of the art workshop for autistic children

A special school nestled in the serene side of Ikeja, Patrick Speech and Languages Centre, Lagos, joined the rest of the world to observe the World Autism Awareness Day using art as a special rostrum. Yinka Olatunbosun reports

The days when parents raising children with learning disabilities feel ashamed of them are gradually becoming history. Today, many parents and teachers of special children celebrate every progress like a historical milestone. That was the general mood at Patrick Speech and Languages Centre, GRA, Ikeja where children living with autism and other learning disabilities were assembled for a special art workshop to mark the World Autism Awareness Day using art as therapy.

Children as well as adults wore bright coloured aprons as they sat around their tables with acrylic paints, pencils, clay and other art materials under the supervision of their teachers, some of whom had adopted the play method of teaching. A background music accompanied the workshop.

The oldest of the lot is 39 years old, attesting to the nature and degree of learning difficulties. Other schools for special children were invited with each parading two representatives. A special teacher from one of the invited schools, Raji Muritala gave some insight into how the art can impact positively on the education of an autistic individual. “They love attractive and colourful things,” he revealed.

There are also other socio-economic factors limiting the figures of autistic children in school. One is lack of funds and another challenge is transportation to and fro the special schools. Muritala, who was standing in for the art teacher in his school said that he had to transport the two children on a power bike from Papa Ajao Mushin to the art workshop at GRA, Ikeja since there is no school bus. Another challenge is the lack of knowledge on the part of the parents. For instance, the oldest student at the school was admitted just three years ago.

“The mother said she didn’t know about the school,” the school administrator, Mrs Nsikan Essien said. “The student hardly talks and even when he says something, it is not audible. But there must be something he can do.

“Art has always been a part of the school curriculum and we have three different art teachers; one for pottery, one for arts and crafts and one for painting. They usually relax with art and music,” she observed.

Also in attendance was the President, Guild of Professional Fine Artists in Nigeria, Sam Ebohon, who gave some rousing opening remarks about the relevance of art to the children living with autism. In his view, art promotes mental and emotional growth.

Art is sought after as an alternative to verbal communication and such collective art project help develop in the students social skills.

Many of the students scribbled, splashed paints, coloured shapes, molded forms with varying proportion of interest, that is from passive to passionate participation.

For Mrs. Felicia Trombi, who has a 27-year old son at the school, the art workshop is a great initiative.

“The art is very good for them for they are able to express their feelings and they can keep focused and calm. They are able to concentrate on something purposeful. I can see my son from here. I saw that he had all his hands and face painted that he had to come around to wash the paint off. I can see that he is very happy doing the painting,” she said, with an infectious smile.

The workshop which has as theme, “The Brain, Art and Autism” will be rounded off on April 7 with an exhibition of all the works of the participating children.