Thursday, April 3rd, 2014
When Leah DeMonia, 12, was first diagnosed with autism at age two and a half, her mom found that making art and crafts could help coax her out of meltdowns, or draw her out of one when nothing else worked. Leah had a natural talent. At age 7, Leah received her first art grant from a local nonprofit for people with autism, and has since received four more.
“Leah likes to draw everywhere!” says her mom, Lori. “She will bring her colored pencils, paint and supplies to a quiet place in the house. She does have a desk and easel to use, but usually it’s somewhere else where we find her creating her art. She does her most drawing after school or in the evening.” Lori works as a one-on-one therapeutic support worker in Chester County, Pennsylvania. She’s author of the children’s book Leah’s Voice, which includes some of Leah’s artwork. “I wanted to write a realistic fiction story that captured children’s attention so they could gain a better understanding of what autism is,” she says. “There aren’t too many picture books that have a female character with autism.”
Leah’s artwork has been therapeutic for her, says Lori: “It has calming effect for her and helps her relax and unwind. Through art, Leah as well as other children on the spectrum can release their frustration and emotions when they cannot express themselves. It not only has helped her as a coping mechanism, but it has helped us too. At times when we didn’t know how Leah was feeling, it has given us a glimpse inside her heart.” Here, Lori shares a glimpse into the meaning behind her daughter’s art:
“Leah is making her own yearbook pages of kids she would like to be friends with,” says Lori. “There’s so much detail to each picture. She has an amazing memories with names, first and last. At school she has friends but always tries to talk to the girls who don’t interact with her much. It’s almost like she knows they are not completely accepting of her and she wants them to like her. Although Leah’s social skills and expressive language are lacking, being included is what she wants more than anything.”
”This drawing came about at the same time a Lunch Bunch was initiated at school. Leah was able to pick a few friends to have lunch with, and she received help to socialize with them. I think it represents the joy and happiness she feels when others are accepting of her and she has that sense of belonging.”
Leah made Pastel Hills in 2013, and it was accepted to be part of the Autism Artism 2014 show
through KindTree/Autism Rocks. A school project (students were asked to create an “abstract landscape”), it will be on display at the opening gala on April 5th in Eugene, Oregon.
Leah with her fourth grade teacher, Miss Bartholomew, who asked to have Leah in her class. “Not only did she accept Leah and support her, her attitude towards Leah encouraged all the children in her class to do the same,” says Lori. “Inclusion is not only important for a child with special needs, it’s important for all children to learn a basic lesson in life: accept others. Needless to say, it was probably Leah’s best year so far. It proved to me that the teacher’s attitude towards students placed in an inclusive classroom makes all the difference. Children imitate what they observe.”
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