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Autism & the Arts At Home

October 2, 2020

Hi BEAT community! 

In May, we hosted an Autism and the Arts Panel Discussion where autistic self-advocates, parents of children with ASD, and representatives from organizations that support the disability community (AHRC, CO/LAB Theater Group, and MAC) shared how they’ve integrated the arts into their home routines. (If you missed our panel, don’t worry! Click here to view a closed captioned recording.)

We’re thrilled to share the following article about theatre-at-home, submitted by Mary Jane, the mother of two children with disabilities:

We have been integrating art into our home routine in a number of ways. 

Truthfully, there has been no shortage of art or inspiration for art around here. My children are naturally inclined towards the arts. 

I have two children with special needs. The oldest of the two is Billy, a 25 year old boy. The younger is Lulu, an 11 year old girl. The first week of quarantine started with their pancake art contest in which they created beautiful tie-dyed pancakes featuring many beautiful color combinations and patterns using food coloring. Lulu has always been a fan of food coloring. She mixes it constantly in drinks and loves to change the colors of things. 

The second week of quarantine, we decided to explore the color wheel and we experimented with paints of many different kinds as we combined colors to create our own color wheels. Then we went to the park to create paintings of things we found in nature. 

Both children play instruments and have been filling the house with beautiful (and sometimes not so beautiful) noise!! Composing, creating always!! I try to give them a theme to direct their energy and give them something to study but they are really just constantly creating. 

There is a small stage in my living room that Lulu and I built several years ago. It’s roughly a half sheet of plywood on short legs. It becomes the band stage or the set for various theatrical creations. Basically, I try to give them a little direction and I give them access to materials and they do the rest. 

By far the best materials are the simple things like the cardboard boxes that get turned into everything. I mean EVERYTHING!! We have a cardboard ball pit! A cardboard arcade. Cardboard vending machines. Props. Instruments. 

Lulu has been creating beautiful backgrounds for her Zoom sessions with her school teachers. When they told her she was not permitted to use virtual backgrounds, she created her own non-virtual backgrounds--using a blackboard, a portable whiteboard and of course...cardboard. 

One of her backgrounds was a beach scene she drew on the blackboard and then she sat with a stuffed shark and played a soundtrack of waves in the background. Another was a video game scene she created on the whiteboard. 

The challenges that we have had during the quarantine are the lack of structure; the absence of real social contact. School lessons are incredibly difficult. Zoom is helpful with social interactions but it definitely doesn’t replace true social interaction. 

Art is helpful in keeping my daughter engaged and interacting with us. We get involved in her art and we help with her projects and that keeps her connected with us. We have been watching Broadway shows and concerts as well. 

For us, the challenge is not getting the art into the day. The challenge is to not lose my daughter to her self-directed ideas. We need to constantly keep her engaged and interacting to keep her connected with people and the fact is...it is exhausting!! A lot of fun but exhausting. 

So we appreciate some of the things that are offered virtually that keep her engaged for a little while so that we can do a load of wash or prepare a meal, or even just sit down and relax for a few minutes. A couple of things that have provided this opportunity are 1) CO/LAB’s new online content and 2) a Zoom guitar lesson that my daughter is taking 1-on-1 with the instructor. 

I hope this is helpful to you. My kids seem to adapt things themselves to fit their needs. 

Good luck and stay well. 

Mary Jane

We hope that this inspires you to integrate the arts into your at-home routines.

What has worked for you and your family? Email lulu@beatglobal.org and let us know!

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