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Community and Creative Arts Therapy

Someone once said that children with special needs are here for a purpose - To forever change the lives of those around them. If you have spent any time with an individual with needs you would know that this change is for the better, they open our eyes to a whole new way of perceiving the world. While each of us who come in contact with these very special individuals is impacted in some way, the ones whose lives are changed forever are their Parents.

This year a unique six month long program was offered at the Owl house. It focused on bringing individuals with special needs along with their parents to the centre every Saturday to engage with each other on multiple levels exploring multiple art forms.

The intention of this program was to bring together each week

1) A Parent group: A space for parents of children with needs to come together to create, share, learn together and from each other through the medium of multiple art forms.

2) A Child group: A space for children and adults with needs to explore multiple art forms in a group setting. For many autistic individuals socialization is a challenge, engaging with each other through the medium of song, movement, visual art and music can sometimes facilitate socialisation within the group in an organic non-intimidating manner.

3) A Parent-child group: A space for children to interact with their parents within a group of other children and parents. This allows children and parents to interact with each other outside the usual dynamic of their homes thus changing the perspective of their relationship.

Group therapy is a beautiful thing

When a group of people come together with an intention to share time, support one another while being open to learn new things, wonderful things happen. Here’s what happened in the six months we spent together.

The Parent Group

In our parent sessions each week we chose to address parenthood from a different, perhaps lighter perspective. Can we look at our challenges as life lessons and our children as teachers?

The aim of each session was to give this group a much needed break from their daily parenting responsibilities. They were able to make the most of this one hour knowing that in the next room their children were being fully engaged by their teachers in some form of art, play, song or dance.

Sharing a heartwarming anecdote from one of the first few sessions. Each Parent in the group was asked to share with each other what they thought was their ‘super power’ as a parent. They each shared specific qualities and virtues that they developed along their parenting journey.

Some of the superpowers they shared were consistency, perseverance, positivity, faith in self, appreciation for the small things in life and inner strength. The beauty of these super powers they shared, was that they did not previously exist and were acquired over time as a result of being the parent of their unique child. The unanimous take away from the session was that their children came into their lives to teach them how to develop these qualities which are now their super powers!

Through the course of the program we experimented with the art forms of painting, storytelling, movement and making music. We played games, told stories, sang songs, made music, shared life experiences, made prayer flags, set intentions, practised mindfulness and gratitude, painted with our fingers, made collages and danced together. The group explored hidden talents and got in touch with their inner voice which may have been partially or completely drowned out by the voices of responsibility over the years. The power of using art forms to bring about self exploration and connection with others was slowly being realised through the program.

Over time the group developed a sense of cohesiveness and The Owl house parent community / support system built itself organically. There was understanding, support and respect for each other’s journey. It was a space of non-judgement and non-pretense. In an environment of acceptance and non judgement healing takes place and this group provided that therapeutic space to each parent especially those who most needed it.

The Children's Group

While their parents were making the most of their session, in the other room their children were exploring similar multi art forms with their teachers. Sessions were designed to address therapeutic goals according to the common needs of each child within the group. Some of these goals were Expressive communication, Group interaction and socialisation, Body movement and agility. In the initial sessions some of the biggest challenges were getting the group to stay together during an activity. This however slowly changed over the course of the program with the dedication and perseverance of the teachers. New interests were discovered in some, Attention spans and Body flexibility increased in others and ability to interact within a group dynamic improved for all. The individuals became more familiar with each other, names were learned and they looked forward to seeing their friends every Saturday. If anyone happened to stop by on a Saturday evening during the children’s session they would inevitably be able to hear the gleeful singing, clapping and laughter coming from the workshop room at the beginning and end of each session.

The Parent-child Group

In the Parent-child sessions we brought both groups together to engage (yet again!) in multi art forms with an aim to provide a variety of experiences to each parent child duo. In a large group of around 20 we danced together, made art together, played games together, sang songs together just to enjoy being together without an agenda of getting things done or achieving specific goals. Apart from their own child , parents got to engage with other children and vice versa which as a result created a sense of patience, compassion and understanding among the group. While some sessions were complete chaos, with distractions, moments of sensory overload, overwhelm and non participation, others were almost perfect and harmonious. For example, there was one in which parent and child were paired together to play the paper dance game and another in which we sat in a large circle and just sang songs together following the request of each child and adult in the group. These sessions allowed us as adults, parents and teachers to step into the world of our children and individuals with needs in order to participate in it just for the fun of being together.

The program was called ‘Inside Out’ because it was designed to bring to the forefront aspects of ourselves that lie within - Inner strength, inner wisdom and most importantly the Inner child . In many ways this program lived up to its name and for that we are grateful.

- By Sasha Braganza

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