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.

20 February 2014

The Power of the Arts

Metrobank Foundation’s Art for Healing project has excited me to no end, being a parent of two teenage boys diagnosed with ASD. In 2013, I helped organize a 6-day art psychosocial intervention workshop. In 2014, through a partnership between Metrobank Foundation, MADE, NCCA and SM Supermalls, a new batch of young PWAs was treated to a one-day workshop, exclusive for Autism Society Philippines members at SM Aura, in celebration of National Arts Month.

Art for Healing is a unique art psychosocial intervention workshop for teens with autism. This workshop differs from others as it allows PWAs the freedom to express their own thoughts and feelings without judgment. The focus is not on fine motor skills; but rather expression.

It is in the teenage years where most individuals, neurotypical or otherwise, struggle with their identity. Using the power of the arts, the workshop hoped to draw out how these participants saw themselves -- a potential challenge for teaching artists, in my view. When asked about what his commitment to mentor, despite how the workshop was a mix of teenagers with diverse ASD deficits, award-winning sculptor Jonathan Dangue gave a reply reflective of his inclusive nature, sans hesitation: “Oo ba. Ibang klaseng pag-iisip yan.” His answer assured me that the kids were going to be in good hands.

PWAs enjoying doing artworks

As much as noted artists such as Noell El Farol, Salvador I. Ching, Thomas Daquioag, Ferdinand Doctolero, Rex Tatlonghari were teaching the participants different techniques of expression, it was their open-mindedness and gentle nature that allowed them to connect with the children so quickly. They knew that the kids were very sensitive and that they have to be responsible in maintaining their energies. As they were having fun teaching the kids, the kids were enjoying expressing themselves through their self-portrait and the parents were relaxed and had generous smiles.

Attending psychologist, Dr. Grace Evangelista, was vigilant in keeping the mood relaxed yet productive. She assisted the artist / teachers if there were any sensory or behavioral issues.

Towards the end of the workshop, each child was asked to present their collages and what it meant. Ezekiel, presented an impressive and intricate collage that was given so much thought. The clarity of his thought was also reflected in his description of his collage. Jay Buenaventura showed his affections for his family as he show how he drew each of them in his collage. Show-and-tell did not exclude the kids who were non-verbal. Clay sculptor, Carlos, may have no words but he knew the sounds that his clay dinosaurs made and he also knew that he made us happy with his dinosaur impressions. The non-verbals were equally proud of their work and they clearly want to share.

Most people make the mistake that art is only for the rich or something that cannot put food on the table. Yet I have seen the power of the arts so many times. It has inspired, fulfilled and uplifted spirits. It has provided respite for those who are downtrodden. It builds character and discipline. It has the power to affect lives with its messages. Communities are formed and united with no need for words.

While others need data and evidence, only a trusting nature can understand what I had witnessed that day. I saw the love in each parent’s eyes as they see their children happy with their accomplishment. I saw teachers embracing the uniqueness of their students. I saw the beautiful gentle souls of kids (and adults) with ASD that can only be expressed beyond words. I saw a higher order of thinking that can only be delivered through the arts. I saw fledging community working together to supporting and uplifting kids with ASD. HeART for Healing always awards me to be a witness to the inclusive power of the arts.

We look forward to the stories and revelations from the next Art for Healing workshop in Davao.

This article is a contribution of Ms. Cristina Estampador, former ASP Trustee and current ASP project coordinator for the Art for Healing project.


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