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Bringing Art into the Lives of Adults with Autism


The Autism Society of North Carolina’s day program in Raleigh, Creative Living, focuses on clients’ individual strengths and interests to help them lead meaningful lives. Art is a large part of this individually tailored approach. Creative Living clients express themselves through many media, including painting and pottery.“Through art, there’s no right or wrong way to do something,” said Katherine Gardocki, Director of Creative Living. “For a lot of clients, it’s a really big stress relief because they don’t have to be verbally engaged or necessarily extremely focused on another person, they can focus on the work.”

Through art, the clients can grow as they have a chance to try something new in a safe environment.

Eric Lionheart Wolf, who has attended Creative Living for three years, enjoys drawing and painting items with meaning or symbolism. “Being able to use different colors and techniques gives me control in my life, and my artwork. I like being creative.”

101024_ASNC_0907B_5x7Clients’ art can also help others get to know them and how they are feeling that day, Gardocki said. Creative Living has about 20 clients who are paired one-on-one with staff, which allows them to build a relationship. “I think that you can learn a lot about somebody through their art – the colors that they select, the styles that they use,” she said.

Artists choose whether to display and sell their work; they keep some of the proceeds, and some goes back into the program. But the program still requires a lot of funding to continue, as art supplies are used up on a regular basis.

That’s where White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh has stepped in.

Since 2004, White Memorial has given more than $11,000 in donations and grants to ASNC and Creative Living. The grants have helped provide supplies for the art program and specifically the pottery program. With White Memorial’s generous support, Creative Living was able to purchase a kiln.

Rev. Gloria Johnson, Associate Pastor for Community Ministry at White Memorial, said the church was inspired to support ASNC by members who have relatives with special needs. “We want to support them and let them know how much we care about their families,” she said.

Church member Marie Horne is the mother of Rob Horne, who is 51 and has attended Creative Living since it started in 1997. Rob thrives at Creative Living, she said, because he is able to get out into the community with his staff member to do volunteer work at the church, the SPCA, a thrift store, and an assisted living facility. “He has to have something that lets him move around.”

Horne brought up Creative Living to the church’s grant committee after seeing the positive influence it had on her son, whose main challenge is expressive language. “He’s gotten a lot better about greeting people because the Creative Living staff really understand him and people with autism,” she said.

Rev. Johnson is the coordinator of the church’s community grant program. “We want to help people that are doing a good job continue to do the job that they know how to do best. We’re not equipped to work with people at the caliber and the depth that other organizations are able to do, but we are certainly committed to our community and helping the community be the best that it can be.”

Church members are happy to support the art program at Creative Living’s request. “They do some wonderful things to allow that kind of creative spirit that we all have to flourish,” Rev. Johnson said.

Gardocki said it is the church’s donations that have allowed the art program to expand based upon clients’ interests, and through the art program, they have also built relationships. For example, they recently held an art show at Roundabout Art Collective in Raleigh. “It just continues to allow us to form those relationships, and in turn, I think it really helps educate the community about adults with autism and what they’re capable of,” Gardocki said.

The Autism Society of North Carolina is thankful to White Memorial Presbyterian Church for its support in bringing art and all of its benefits to the adults at Creative Living. We hope the partnership will continue for years to come.

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