For UAE children with autism, art exhibit is a chance to shine
ABU DHABI // Immediately upon spotting his paintings on display, Thanderbee Vislykh broke free from his mother to race to the exhibit.
“That’s my picture,” the 12-year-old said, pointing up at two framed paintings, one of a penguin and the other of a goldfish. “It is! I made them with no help or anything. You just need good, good thoughts.”
Thanderbee’s artworks were two of about 60 pictures on display at The Galleria mall until April 30 as part of Picture This, an exhibition hosted by the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation (Admaf) and Gulf Capital to mark Autism Awareness Month.
The pictures were created by autistic and special education needs children from the New England Centre for Children Abu Dhabi, the Future Centre for Special Needs, Goals UAE and the Emirates Autism Society.
Thanderbee’s mother, Maria Vislykh, said she had enrolled her homeschooled son in weekly afternoon art classes organised by Goals UAE and sponsored by Admaf at the Mother of the Nation Park.
The workshops offered a safe venue for Thanderbee and other autistic children to socialise while expressing their artistic side, she said.
“I was looking for anything to engage him, and for an autistic child, it’s very difficult to find any school, but also to find a community or any social activity where he’s allowed to progress at his own pace or he’s allowed more freedom,” said Mrs Vislykh.
The fact that some of the children’s artworks were selected to be exhibited at the mall helped to boost the youngster’s self-esteem, she said.
“He feels validated. He is proud that he can show his work and that his work is appreciated,” said Mrs Vislykh.
Ramakrishnan Ganesan said his 15-year-old son, Rohith, looked forward to the six-week workshop every Monday. Having the artwork publicly displayed not only encouraged the children, but helps raise awareness about autism, said Mr Ganesan, who recalled a time not long ago when some people shielded autistic people from the public.
Mr Ganesan also hoped the focus on autism this month would help bring attention to some of the continuing challenges families with autistic children face when it comes to education. His son is homeschooled but he wondered how parents can help their children develop without interacting with other children.
Society’s attitudes towards children with special needs have been improving, but more needed to be done to help the children fully participate, said Laila Hail, whose five-year-old, Bader Al Harthi, has autism.
“They should be integrated,” said Mrs Hail, adding that some autistic children with less serious problems need interaction with other children to improve.
“We are going in steps and the plan is [that] next year, inshallah, he will be integrated in a normal school.”
Charles Martinez, general manager of The Galleria, said the exhibit was a great way to improve the public’s knowledge about autism and support the young artists.
As he looked around at the children and families enjoying the installations, he said that there was “nothing more rewarding”.
“This is probably is the highlight of my day, to see some of these kids respond to seeing their work in a public space like this. It’s just a great feeling to see them experience this excitement.”
Updated: April 12, 2016 04:00 AM