Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Provence, France: Art and Autism

                               "I dwell in possibility." --Emily Dickinson

Elias, my son, with autism, who was about to give his talk. Kristopher, a fellow parent, also with a son with autism, is now a good friend.
When you discover your child has a disability, your heart prints are changed forever. Suddenly, the terrain and landscape are different. The roads can appear confusing, mystifying, and sometimes even blocked. Fog can descend in patches along the way. Just as the "Cape of Good Hope" in South Africa was initially once named "the Cape of Storms," the beginning of my journey with autism seemed wracked with larger crests than I thought I could surmount. As old-world explorers saw a new vision for their seafaring voyages to Asia, India, and the New World, they decided to give The Cape a new name: "the Cape of Good Hope." They began to dwell in the art of possibility. Instead of only seeing treacherous waves and unanticipated storms, the explorers focused on hope and optimism. They believed wild, churning waves could bring them to beautiful and undiscovered lands. The choice? Get stuck or let the wind bring you to magical places.

I believe that we must all change our trajectories, paradigms, definitions, labels--wherever life's journeys take us. I could never have predicted the initial wild autism waves could bring me to incredible places and people. This year our son, Elias, who has autism, and I were invited to Provence twice to talk to educators, teachers, administrators, and parents. They asked him to bring a painting for the Manosque, France Orange and Blue Autism Centre.

Meeting, working, talking to the people of Provence who work daily with children and families with disabilities has transformed my life. As Leigh Hunt has said, "Traveling in the company of those we love is home in motion." I have a new home in France with people who passionately care about children and families with disabilities. My former storms are no more, and instead, I chose long ago to see the beckoning possibilities.

In May, we came with my niece, who speaks far better French than I do, and she translated for Elias. I wanted to share his talk--especially for those who would have wanted to be there:

Natalie, Elias's cousin, helping to translate his talk for him, and presenting the picture to the autism center.
"I want to talk about how I love art. I had a teacher named Mr. Gabriel who encouraged me to learn how to be a better artist. He let me try new projects like printmaking, painting, and splattering paint drops like Jackson Pollack. My teacher helped me to learn how to create and express myself with paint, paper, and clay."

"I want to help other people with special needs like me. I want everyone to stop and create more. It makes me happy when I do art and when I see others doing art too. My mom and I have started a foundation called Art4Every1. We want to have everyone do art in hospitals, refugee camps, schools. I know I am happier when I do art. I can see new shapes and patterns. I can see colors mixed together. I can see the world in different ways. I love nature, and I like to paint what I see." 

"I want to go to art school someday and keep on getting better. I want to teach other people to be happy when they do art. The painting that we choose to paint for you here is blue because the color of celebrating autism is blue. It is a winter scene. My mom and I listened to Vivaldi's winter music when we painted it. The mountains are in the background. And it shows a forest of trees. This picture means that you keep going and climbing to the mountain, and not to get stuck in the trees and fog." 

"My other project is a collage of the ocean and sand that I did with my art teacher, Anny Ku, in Qatar. I painted small pictures with acrylic paint on them and put them together like a mosaic. It took me about four or five hours to make. It looks like a tsunami to me. There are lots of patterns in the ocean layers."

"I am so so glad I could come and talk to you about art. Thank you."

I have become part French. I am forever changed by the French people whom I have met in the last few years in France. I have started learning French. I could never predict or expect this incredible journey. As a young college student, I only saw the more visible beauties in the Louvre, a crepe, or the Notre Dame. Now I see the splendor and awe so much more when I go there. I get to be revitalized with some of the people who are on my autism journey with me, my fellow-travelers.

Thank you, France, for inviting us in--to come on the art journey with you. I am not so dim to realize that my journey with my art partner, my son, Elias, is what got me here in the first place. The storms of long ago have rewarded me with so much hope, so much joy. I have been in many happy places and lands with him that I would never have ventured otherwise. Storms bring hopeful rainbows.

A teacher who came to hear our presentation.

In May, Elias with Emmanuel Charot, the Chairman of the Organization for children with Disabilities called A.D.A.P.E.I.

Some of the many reasons why art education is so important--for both typical children and those who have a disability.

Pictures from our recent trip in October:

In the Orange Blue A. D.A. P.E. I  School in Manosque, France--a setting that I have learned so much from. Every detail has been thought out in the school and for the children. It is a happy place that prepares them for the future. 

I was so happy in this art room, that I didn't want to leave. Marie, the art teacher,  told me she has a family member with a disability so this is the reason she decided to become an art teacher for children with disabilities.

Mitch Quiles, our dear friend, who made it all possible that we could come to Provence to meet and connect with the A.D.A.P..E. I  teachers and administrators. Mitch has a son with a handicap so he is very involved and on the board for A.D.A. P.E.I.  in Provence.

Elias and I didn't want to leave the art room because it felt so creative to be there. 

Marie, the teacher, has an amazing facility for the children to create.

The pottery area

It was just such a delightful room, inviting and joyous to all. 

Some of the great things that the A.D.A.P.E.I. organization is doing in Provence. Translation for the article: A great reward for the young people of the Instit Medico-Educatif. We made an impressive mural of 90m2 with the students of the school, "Les Plantiers: and the Club Altitude of Sisteron. Our fresco has just been selected for the Olympic Games in Pairs. It is a pride for us to have led all these artists in herbs in a great adventure. Adventure that is just beginning. This fresco realized on canvas, is exposed in various places over the demonstrations in the Laure et Marie Plastic Arts Workshops. Instructors and educators were able to perform feats with the group of young people who spoke during these intensive moments of creativity.

France is leading the way, in my opinion, to help children who have disabilities and their families. It is critical that children and youth with disabilities feel purposeful and prepare for the future. In my work in Qatar with children with disabilities, I see that these children need to feel successful and their lives are of value. When children with disabilities feel their worth and validation, we are all strengthened. When we help to enrich their lives, we too are better. We learn and know things we would have never known, which elevates us all. The world is kinder, more humane, and listening to every voice. And sometimes when there is no voice, art is the way they can speak to us.