Picture an ember – a small glowing spark that with proper care and attention will grow into a warm, radiating fire. Now picture your spark – what gets you up in the morning, what motivates you to keep going, and how do you nurture that spark?
For many of us that spark is our work, and it is nurtured by feelings of fulfillment and purpose. For many diagnosed with Autism, fulfilling, purposeful work is but a dream (Scheiner, 2011).
David’s spark is painting. He is an artist whose brightly colored, uniquely designed pieces hang in homes and businesses throughout his community and beyond. David is an adult diagnosed with Autism who, after aging out of public education, chose to pursue his passion. This option is not available for many adults with Autism or other developmental disabilities, so how do they find their sparks? Thankfully, though many issues are at play in the number of adults with Autism who are unemployed, alternatives to traditional work options are becoming more abundant (Carley, 2016).
David works at an art studio that is specifically designed for individuals in his position – adults with developmental disabilities whose passion is art – and that is run by a collaborative team of professionals and family members. Kindling Studios opened in Camarillo, CA in 2015 and currently supports ten artists with Autism and other special needs.
Though not everyone is skilled in, or even interested in art (the author included), each person has inside him or her a spark that needs kindling. By learning about each individual’s strengths, skills, and needs, and by exploring new activities it is possible to create meaningful work that employs natural supports and community partners. In the case of Kindling Studios, a number of families with creative proclivities came together to create a working studio for their adult children with Autism. With a similar model it is possible for others to create programs based on music, theatre, computer programming, accounting, or any other field.
When creating a passion-based program, a working partnership between families, professionals, and community members is paramount. Most importantly, individuals with Autism must be involved in the creation of programs and services meant to support their strengths and needs (Hagner, May, Kurtz, & Cloutier, 2014).
Kindling Studios incorporates instruction in both art and entrepreneurial skills, and is advised by its artists and their families as to goals, art mediums, and other programmatic components. Paid professionals include an art therapist, professional photographer, professional musician, and special education expert. Volunteer instructions include weavers, ceramicists, sewers, quilters, painters, and other artists. Artists work in an art collective that houses a number of other community members, most without diagnosed special needs. This integrated setting allows artists with Autism to practice not only art and entrepreneurial skills, but also to engage in real life social interactions, problem solving, and collaboration.
Kindling Studios is not unique in its approach to teaching and supporting artists with Autism, and its creators are inspired by other similar programs across the United States including MAKE STUDIO, Imagine That!, Arts & Services for Disabled, Inc., and Pure Vision Arts.
In an average month David earns $400 by selling his paintings on commission and at local events. While $400 a month does not come close to paying rent in Southern California, David’s accompanying pride, confidence, and feelings of self-efficacy are worth much more. These and similar sentiments experienced by David and other artists contribute to improved quality of life, the benefits of which measure far beyond simple employment (Rearick, 2015).
One parent speaks to the benefit of this passion-based program, “I am grateful for those people in my son’s life with such talent, care, and respect for all others.”
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