Art assignment leads to prize, peer recognition for student with autism
January 16, 2020
Jackson, Mich. - What started out as an assignment to keep students busy while the teacher gets ready for class, turned into an impressive piece of art for a Parkside 8th grader with autism.
13-year-old Danielle is on the autism spectrum and functions at the level of a kindergartner or first-grader. Before coming to Middle School at Parkside, Danielle was at the Lyle Torrant Center and then Frost Elementary. Her teacher, Melinda Boyd, has been with her for four years now, and has seen a tremendous improvement in her development during that time.
Mrs. Boyd credits Danielle’s passion for art as the reason behind her progress. “She is at her best when she is drawing. That’s one thing I don’t ever take away from Danielle, even if she’s upset or in trouble,” says Mrs. Boyd. “The characters she draws - you can just see the emotion and feeling in them.”
Danielle’s art teacher, Debra Irvine, agrees. “Danielle is very independent and really takes to her assignments. Danielle doesn’t communicate very well with many people, but when I ask her about what she’s working on, she goes into every little detail about her piece - it’s really a joy to watch,” says Mrs. Irvine.
Research has shown that art therapy can have a positive impact on children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). A 2017 study led by an art therapist found that, "art therapy could have an effect on reducing behavioral problems of children with autism in specific problem areas, including social communicative behavior, flexibility and self-image." That's because individuals with ASD tend to think visually and use visual arts to communicate what's going on in their world.
Students in Mrs. Irvine’s art class were recently given an assignment to work on in the first 5-10 minutes of class. It was a snapshot of a longer assignment called the “30 Day Drawing Challenge.” Students were asked to draw the first 15 days drawings all on one page. When the assignment was over, Mrs. Irvine was so impressed with what they came up with, she chose a handful of the best drawings and hung them up without identifying who drew what. She asked her 6th, 7th and 8th grade students to vote for the top three - and Danielle’s drawing got third place.
“She was so excited she won, you could just see her light up with excitement when we told her,” says Mrs. Boyd. Besides being recognized for her artistic ability by her peers, Danielle won a sketchbook - and will get to see her art displayed at the Westwood Mall during the Student Art Showcase this spring.
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