The Autism Society Philippines (ASP) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to the well-being of persons on the autism spectrum disorder. We envision a society where Filipinos on the spectrum become the best of their potentials -- self-reliant, independent, productive, socially-accepted citizens of an Autism-OK Philippines.

03 May 2011

Art of the innocents

By Dang U Koe, ASP Chair Emeritus

MANILA, Philippines — With the proper motivation or stimulus, a student with autism can form images in his mind. By using his hands, his eyes, his feelings, he is able to synchronize his senses to show them on paper or clay. He undergoes what we call the creative process. This process allows him, nay, gives him the chance to imagine, to choose, to plan, to innovate, to express himself without words. In so doing… the process becomes joyful and emotionally satisfying. It promotes his self-confidence. It becomes therapeutic. He is able to concentrate longer. In his joy with the activity he is able to compare with others and exercise critical thinking. He also learns to share more. For art becomes his pictorial language.”

That is why Barbra Dans-Paguia called her lecture at the Ayala Museum “The Art of the Innocents.”

SPECIAL ARTWORKS – These are creations of children with autism.
Painting by: Cocoy Tan and Biel Vinzon
(Clockwise from left) Jayvee Fua’s drawing, Biel Vinzon’s self portrait and Vernice Prado’s clay sculpture

Paguia, or Teacher Baba, is one of the country’s veterans in special education. She started teaching children with special needs in 1984. She co-founded Bridges Foundation in 1992, one of the country’s finest special schools.

Teacher Baba’s lecture was based on her six-month art program for adolescent students of Bridges. The program was implemented under the guidance of painter Araceli Limcaco-Dans, Teacher Baba’s mother and mentor. While implementing the program, Teacher Baba came upon significant realizations she wishes to share with parents, teachers, relatives and friends of students (young adults) with special needs.

In her lecture, Teacher Baba advised that when implementing art, the goal is to focus on what the creative activity does for the person, and not on the product. “Copying or tracing may help a bit in the fine motor development of the student, but it may also be harmful because it can deprive the person of the joys of discovering, the joy of realizing that he can invent, the pleasure of forming a picture in his mind, and the self-confidence that comes with creating something concrete on his own,” Teacher Baba said.

Angels Talk interviewed Teacher Baba further.

* * * * *

How did you realize the potential of persons with autism (PWAs) for art in the school environment?

The art workshop program was a six-month experimental program that Bridges attempted for selected participants who have fine-motor skills enough to make simple basic shapes and other recognizable figures paper and the potentials to create if motivated properly. The participants were the older students of Bridges that needed more therapeutic opportunities to provide work-life balance, and most of them enjoy manipulating art materials.

The school realizes that the artwork outputs of the students looked like they came out of a factory assembly line as they were mere reproductions of stereotypic works. We wanted to develop their creativity and freedom of expression rather than imitation and compliance to the dictates of how their works should look like.

You described that when the PWAs go through the process, they become joyful and emotionally satisfied. Please give examples how these were manifested.

The fact that the participants were able to focus much longer than usual and with less promptings and assistance from the teachers, I would think, confirm that they enjoyed it.

Video and photo documentations also show the students smiling and giving a satisfied sigh in the process. We also observed a handful of them liked to visit the display area, seemingly admiring, or perhaps assessing their finished works. Those who were more communicative also took some interest or initiative to comment on some of their works whether it is by signing or verbalizing.

How does art become therapeutic for the PWAs?

If implemented correctly, when there are little or no great demands or external expectations as to how the end product ought to be, spontaneity and freedom of expression are emanated; it should give the artists the freedom to choose and design using form, size, color, etc. I would suppose, as a principle, any activity that is enjoyable, relaxing and non-pressuring becomes therapeutic as it provides an “acceptable” outlet from stress.

How does art enhance a PWA’s self-confidence? If PWA is non-verbal, how does he communicate this?

Being unable to be understood for “regular” people who have the ability to communicate can be quite a frustrating experience. Imagine yourself, as most PWAs are, with no means to express your thoughts and feelings as you are locked in a body with brains that disable you. Your capacity to do things like most people do is also limited. Far worse, the people who surround you may be enablers that do most things for you because they pity you.

Given the proper motivation and guidance, Art may be a strong venue that provides one like such, a means to “explore” and “create”. As a result, it gives people with disabilities an added sense of fulfillment and self-confidence. Because of this, the desire to engage in art becomes reinforcing, and wanting to “create” again is aroused. Hopefully, it may also spark one to attempt to do other tasks on his own as he realizes that he is not as limited as he and those around him think he is.

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Acknowledgment to Manila Bulletin:

Art of the innocents


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