Most individuals with autism struggle with communication and are often visual thinkers. This is the reason why art fits naturally with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), because it helps them express themselves through images while drawing or painting are also, being soothing activities.
But still, there are those who remain unaware that those on the spectrum “are no different from neurotypicals (average individuals) except that those with ASD do not mask their fears and difficulties” as Dr. Joaquin Antonio Benedicto, pediatric occupational therapist puts it.
“From my point of view, everybody is the same. There are those we call the neurotypicals (those not on the spectrum) and those who are atypical. But for me, all of us have our own differences. Even us who do not have autism, we have our own difficulties, but because there is more knowledge now about the condition itself, there is more acceptance and there is more opportunity for individuals with autism to exemplify what they can do rather than what they cannot do. Autismalikhain highlights that they can do more than what we think they cannot,” added Benedicto.
Autismalikhain is the title of the art exhibit that opened in SM City Bacolod Saturday, featuring the artworks of students with autism of Happy Beginners School of Learning. Malikhain is a Filipino term which means creative. The exhibit features 10 paintings and drawings of students on the spectrum.
Greg Guanzon of the Transition Class was beaming with pride the whole time he was attending the program and when he was introduced alongside fellow student artists. He was with his Mama Di, retired judge and Cadiz City Councilor Frances Guanzon who heads the SP Committee on Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in her hometown.
Greg was all smiles while he kept repeating the words “kadlaw” and “sadya” which meant laugh and fun respectively. He painted on canvas the popular symbols of theatre: a Thalia or muse of comedy mask and a Melpomene or Melpo which represents the tragedy mask. The splatter of bright colors on his canvas reflects the strong feeling of happiness of the student artist. Councilor said
““He is improving. He can mingle with his peers and he is the manong (big brother) of everyone in school. He always tells me he is having fun. Last December, his Transition Class was busy making sandwich spread, crafts and spiced vinegar. He would call us and ask over the phone ‘how many are you ordering?’ Haha! And we actually ordered from them for the people that we gave gifts to during the holidays,” shared Councilor Guanzon.
Greg’s other aunt, P3PWD Partylist Rep. Rowena Guanzon was surprised to learn that one of the paintings on exhibit was done by her nephew.
Rep. Guanzon, who is a strong advocate of empowering individuals with learning disabilities, was among the guests during the opening of the exhibit that is part of the celebration of the 27th National Autism Consciousness Week.
The solon was impressed when she saw the works of the students on the spectrum.
“Children with autism are very close to my heart because my nephew Greg Gabriel, is now 24. He has severe ASD. He goes to a special school, Happy Beginners. We are glad that he has friends there, he is learning new life skills and he feels that he belongs to a community that supports him. So I am very thankful to the Happy Beginners, all the parents and the staff for making this possible for our children with learning disabilities.”
Meanwhile, ten students from different special education (SPED) schools joined the assisted poster-making contest. Dr. Lowelyn Escalona, Education Program Supervisor for Kindergarten and SPED said painting and poster-making are good avenues for children with autism to show their skills and abilities. Escalona explained, when these children are able to channel their energy to art, they are able to relieve themselves of stress and they can also find a sense of meaning in their drawings. The art works of these children with autism conveys a message that they are just like neurotypical children with gifts.
“Even in our public schools, we also have activities like these during arts classes. Our activities, especially in the public schools, are already included in our curriculum to help these children to be productive. These will bring them jobs for sustainability and make them ready to be introduced to mainstream and to regular schools because we are inclusive now,” she said.
The Autism Society of the Philippines – Negros Occidental Chapter strongly advocates art therapy as it promotes mental and emotional growth and also builds life skills such as collaboration and independence among children on the spectrum. Art therapy is a distinct treatment for autism and helps reduce its symptoms, promotes self-expression and encourages social interaction in a fun environment.
Working closely with these kids and telling their stories have made me realize how amazing they are and that they are we, neurotypicals, are not totally different from them because we also have our peculiarities. The only difference is that we, neurotypicals, are able to mask our unusual features or odd habits unlike them, they do not euphemize. That is why there is early intervention. There are trainings and schools for them that can help them manage their daily activities so that they can live as normally as they can. As Dr. Benedicto emphasized it during our conversation, “If the community just provides the much-needed support, these children with autism can go a long way with regards to independent living”.*