Photography Class for Children with Autism and their Families, in Spanish

In November of 2010,  The Queens Library and the Queens Museum of Art celebrated the photographs captured by the six families participating in “A View from My Lens,” a photography class for children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. This bilingual class, providing Spanish language supports, was a family program in which siblings and parents took an active role in the class directives at the Flushing branch of the Queens Library Participants met on Wednesday afternoons for six weeks, where they learned about the fundamentals of photography using a digital camera.  All equipment was provided for the students along with a binder including visual aids and family homework assignments.

Students learned about the care and use of their cameras along with various techniques such as “light vs. dark” and “part vs. whole.”  Below is an example of a student’s exploration of light source.  The photo is of a fellow student-photographer and his father.

I was lucky to have the creative collaboration of ArtAccess Educators Sol Aramendi & Rachel Crumpler.

I asked both Sol and Rachel to keep a journal of their experiences, blame my art therapy background- And I enjoyed reading their notes!  Rachel recalled a story about a 3 year old sibling participant who learned English through the visual aids provided.  She would ask Rachel the English word for various colors and when she gained enough confidence, she shared what she learned with the participating Youth Services Librarian, Moyra Haughton.

The role of the Librarian was essential to the success of the program.  She  made connections to the library collection by selecting books for the corresponding theme.  Morya, also highlighted library resources and services available, and provided applications for library cards.

When we talked about the progress of the class during week three, she confided, “I’m really falling in love with the kids.  I could see why you would want to help them.”  Of course she uncovered this sense of satisfaction – Morya is a special person who enjoys serving her community!  We were lucky to have her participate in this unique program.

Rachel Crumpler, Queens Museum Educator, describes the work of a 7 year old student with autism in her journal,  “He used pictures of himself with a camera for his collage. ‘This is the story of me taking pictures,’ [he] says as he describes his collage.” Rachel’s detailed notes have impacted my work as a coordinator, giving me the trust and faith in an already incredible and accomplished educator to effortlessly implement each class with expertise and ease.  It’s not always easy for me to relinquish control and trust that programs are going to succeed without my direct involvement  and I am grateful to Rachel for making the process effortless.

Sol Aramendi is practicing photographer/teaching artist and was particularly interested in expanding her teaching repertoire to include people with special needs.  She requested resources and training to develop as an instructor.  I was pleased at how she consumed the resources provided.  Her excitement over the training materials reminded me of my own love of teaching.

The interactions within the groups were facilitated by the aforementioned instructors and our Queens Teens, but by  the fifth session, as Sol documented in her journal” … their social interactions happen naturally, they start interacting with each other without us prompting it. They take pictures of each other almost without parent intervention.”

The most important outcome was that students, both children and adults, made new friends.  It seemed that the cameras provided a tool in which to capture each young artist’s perspective.  The photographs served as a conversation using visual vocabulary.  The friendships created sparked a need to develop a second class for the participants.  Photograph II: Digital Storytelling will commence in January of 2011.

The culminating photography exhibition was held at the Queens Museum of Art, on November 21, 2010.  Students shared their pictures while enjoying refreshments.  Families took a tour of the Panorama of the City of New York and viewed a slideshow of the artists in action.

The success of community programming for people with autism is the relationships created with the spaces and people in those public places.  Families crave quality programming in the arts and are willing to travel.  Our group was made up of participants from Queens and the Bronx.  We have since enjoyed the visits our photographers have made to other public events in our museum.

In December, Sol, Rachel and Moyra shared their experiences with member of the grant steering committee from both the Queens Library and QMA. We will continue to share lessons learned and  hope the dissemination of these lessons inspire other communities to partner with their local cultural institutions.  I have learned that there are no experts, everything is a pilot … so take a chance and collaborate!

Stay tuned for more classes to come from our QMA-QL Autism Initiatives Partnership!  If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email: mlopez@queensmuseum.org.

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