Saturday 17 August, 2019

Kiwanians partner with JASA, Edna Manley for ‘Art of Autism’

Members of the Kiwanis Club of Young Professionals, Kingston gathered for a photo to display art works painted by children with autism at the recent staging of the “Art of Autism” pilot project held on earlier this month at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. (Photo: Aston Spaulding)

Members of the Kiwanis Club of Young Professionals, Kingston gathered for a photo to display art works painted by children with autism at the recent staging of the “Art of Autism” pilot project held on earlier this month at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. (Photo: Aston Spaulding)

In recognition of April, as World Autism Awareness month, the Kiwanis Club of Young Professionals Kingston, Jamaica joined forces with the Jamaica Autism Support Association (JASA) and the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts to host a pilot event dubbed, ‘Art of Autism,’ earlier this month at the Edna Manley College.

The event which saw 23 children with autism and their parents in attendance; was designed to use art as therapy for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), as a way to improve their social and communicative skills.

In describing the genesis of the pilot project, chairperson of the club’s impact committee, Sasha-Kay Gilzean shared, “This initiative seeks to empower children with autism through art therapy as it provides enjoyment, stress relief and boosts self-confidence; essentially as they subconsciously practice life skills. Studies have also shown the benefits of this approach.

Art therapy is a creative process that has been touted to improve and enhance the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of individuals. It has been seen by some developmental experts as an alternative to verbal communication, while also assisting with developing social skills while addressing sensory processing disorder.

Against this background, this art therapy session was executed as a way to bridge the challenges often faced by individuals with autism, which has as its hallmarks: difficulty with verbal and social communication as well as sensory fixation and overstimulation.

(L-R) Director Dalea Bean of the Kiwanis Club of Young Professionals, Kingston looks on as President Naketa West, assists one of the children with autism, to complete his work of art!

The two-hour long session, which saw the children being grouped according to their varying needs, creating their own masterpieces by drawing and painting under the tutelage of special needs art teachers and assistants from Edna Manley College, working alongside Kiwanians. 

The parents were also engaged in a support session, while the children participated in the art therapy session.  This segment was aimed at providing a welcoming environment to discuss challenges and provide solutions that can empower parents to effectively manage their children’s behaviour and share parenting best practices.  One such solution explored is the idea that going forward, the College would explore the implementation of varying programmes to meet the needs of children with autism.

The day’s event received a thumbs up from the head of JASA, who is also a parent of a participant. In commending the initiative, co-founder of the non-profit (JASA) Kathy Chang, noted that the organization looks forward to this ongoing partnership, as it was an opportunity to showcase the abilities of the children. She also welcomed the support of the Kiwanians who worked alongside the experts in helping the children to create their works of art and provided suppliers to offset the cost of the event.

Naketa West, president of the club, added, “We were happy to have partnered with these two entities in organising this event, as it provided an opportunity for us as Kiwanians to get a first-hand experience of interacting with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and learn some best practices. I believe that this knowledge and the skills will be beneficial to us as a group that is dedicated to serving children of varying abilities, as we will now be better equipped to address and identify these signs.”

She further shared, “The art pieces created were quite impressive and showcased masterful talent and skills. One parent was very happy for the initiative and is quite eager for her child/ren to be engaged in more, this was especially heart-warming for me a mother and Kiwanian.”

The initiative is in keeping with the Club’s mandate as a global volunteer organization with a mission to serve children and communities; through service and leadership with community-based projects; focused on educational development projects, beautification projects and programmes geared towards at-risk-youth and children.

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