This is Hannah. Over here is Kiel. And meet Edward. For a brief moment, the world these children live in has been captured on canvas. Each painting gives an insight to the life they lead as an autistic child. “I created this exhibit to be sensitive to those with disabilities,” said Kathleen Dugan, assistant professor of art at Anderson University. “These are portraits of actual children — including two of my own.” With the portraits are general overviews of autism and insights to behavioral issues. “They have social deficits. You have to show them how to socialize. You have to show them how to interact with someone. It can be as basic as getting them to look at you and say ‘Hi.’”
[Editor’s Note: This special exhibit and discussion sessions with the East Central Chapter of Autism Society of America and the Indiana Resource Center for Autism were made possible through collaboration between the AU School of Education and the AU Department of Art+Design].
“Facing Autism” will run through Nov. 11 at the Wilson Galleries at Anderson University.
Studies show that one in 166 people is considered a high functioning autistic person.
“People think of those with autism as walking to a corner, rocking back and forth and talking to themselves or not talking at all,” Dugan said.
One portrait features a child who can only communicate through pictures.
“Most of the kids can talk,” she said. “My son Mario is obsessed. He can sit and play all day in his own world. My daughter will get this kind of look like she’s not there, kind of like when you see someone daydream. But you call her name and she’s doesn’t answer. ... She goes into a make-believe world and we can’t visit her there. She won’t communicate with us.”
Behavior issues are a big part of dealing with autism. With autistic children in the mainstream public school system, sometimes teachers are forced to deal with situations they aren’t always prepared for.
“The portraits are an attempt to raising awareness,” Dugan said. “These kids don’t behave like other kids. People often think we’re bad parents. But something triggers a response in them and they distance themselves any way they know how. It could be a sensory overload. Too many things may be going on at once and there’s too much noise and they can’t handle it. ... My daughter will have tantrums at school. ... You have to think about the root cause of the behavior. It’s not always what seems to be the most obvious answer.”
Dugan has had to practice taking trips to the grocery store with her kids because “it’s overwhelming and they can’t articulate what’s overwhelming for them. They revert back to a 3-year-old behavior.”
During the exhibit, the East Central Chapter of Autism Society of America will meet at the galleries. The Indiana Resource Center for Autism director and ASA board chair, Cathy Pratt, will be speaking on behavioral issues. The meeting is open to the public and will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 3.
“It’s so hard to accommodate for these kids,” Dugan said. “Having information about what to expect is a start.”
— STACEY M. LANE GROSH is a reporter with the Anderson Herald Bulletin. Visit the Herald Bulletin Web site at http://www.theheraldbulletin.com