Autism Center Hosts Art Classes

Julia Fawbush, Reporter

The Autism Center is holding art classes for children with autism to help improve their motor and social skills.

Eileen Perchak, executive director of Supporting Autism and Families Everywhere (SAFE), explained the wide varieties of art and utilizing different formats, like finger painting and cutting and pasting, enhances sensory tolerance, visual spatial deficiencies, and self-expression.

Perchak added that, besides improving motor skills, the simple act of gliding a crayon over paper may also help students communicate their thoughts and feelings, which lends itself to a more independent way of life in the future.

“Art is expressive,” Perchak said. “It comes in a wide variety of formats, all which can enhance the autistic child’s capacity for learning. It can stimulate and strengthen focus, attention span, self-expression, word banks, communication, social skills, decrease self-stimulating behaviors and engages the visual and perceptive area of the brain.”

The art program was established with the university two months ago. SAFE has had an amazing relationship with the Autism for Lifelong Learning program and was able to reach out to more individuals and expand the weekly classes.

“The program has taken on a life of its own,” said Perchak.

“Because we’re holding it weekly, it gives the individual some opportunities to see the same people and see friendships forming,” said Kristin Hoffman, director of the Autism Center.

The positive feedback the program has received was not only from the university, but  from parents and children who say the program “has been nothing short of outstanding,” according to Hoffman..

“The families seem very happy,” she added. “They’re excited to do some activities with their child because we’re encouraging the families to participate, not watch them. It’s been like a nice family experience.”

In addition to the art program, the Autism Center and SAFE also offer one-on-one swimming lessons for individuals on the autism spectrum every Wednesday evening, a program now in its second session.

“The number one accidental death in children on the spectrum is drowning, so we created SAFE Swims – giving these children the basics to learn how to swim in the event they would elope and find themselves in a dangerous situation,” Perchak said.

SAFE is also in the process of developing a respite program with the university to offer a break for family caregivers of children with autism and other developmental delays.