A Creative Workshop for Kids with Autism

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Art Workshop for Kids with Autism: Lights

Any form of creativity helps kids with autism express themselves and discover new forms of communication. Creating art helps bridge the complicated gaps between “normal” and “different.”

The event we’re describing here is a very special one: a creative workshop for autistic children. The theme: lighting your world. Location: a medieval monastery in the center of Prague. The workshop spanned about four days and concluded with a public art exhibition with professionals from the architecture and art worlds attending and reviewing the results.

The host and organizer of this workshop was Jana Hejdova, architect, artist, lighting designer and mom to Adam, 15, who was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome or highly functional autism at age 3. Jana lives and works in Prague with her husband and two sons.

LGB: What inspired you to organize this event?

JH: First, I was inspired by my son Adam who is very passionate about lights. Second, the fact that few such events exist here in Prague. The original idea was to organize a lighting design workshop for non-autistic adults–some of whom I have worked with in the past–only. Lighting design is part of my profession, so this idea came to me quite naturally. Then, my son inspired me to involve autistic children. Rather than be another person who talks about making a difference but doesn’t get around to it, I decided to at least take a meaningful step. To do this,  I combined my passion with this desire to make a positive change.

LGB Did the workshop go as you planned?

JH: Definitely nothing went according to my original plan. However, I entered this process with the understanding that I can’t have any expectations at all. It was the first event I have put together, something like a test drive. And the main purpose was to explore the possibilities, define boundaries and learn from the process.Art Workshop for Kids with Autism

The workshop was designed as a multi-day event to allow enough time and space to develop and create interesting objects. We dedicated three full afternoons to autistic kids and their guardians, inviting them to attend according to their own time schedules. They usually played through exploration and created for several hours and then left. I was expecting mutual inspiration–collaboration between adults and children; in the end, not many adults attended other than parents or guardians.

LGB: How was the attendance overall?

JH: Despite really bad weather conditions we had about 25 little designers in all over the course of 3 days. Everybody was really eager to create and work with others.

The workshop was concluded with a public art opening and exhibition which featured lighting objects from the workshops as well as some that were created in collaboration with my son before the actual workshop. We wanted to inspire kids and encourage them to participate in the next event. We had live music and theater performances; everybody had a great time; some of the young participants took their creations home after the show.

Art Workshop for Kids with Autism

LGB: As the mother of an autistic boy and an artist yourself, what is your experience with autism and creative activities?

JH: In my opinion, creativity is among the fundamental purposes of human life, autistic or not. Being creative means being in constant motion, being aware of your surroundings and how you influence your surroundings. I personally can’t even imagine life without creativity. Kids (and adults) with autism often have a very difficult time expressing themselves “properly” so they can be accepted by mainstream society. Any form of creativity helps them discover new forms of communication. In the end, it’s art and creativity that helps bridge the complicated communication between “healthy” and “handicapped.”  It has nothing to do with having a talent, it’s more about finding an activity that provides an outlet for your own personal creativity. My son and I have found this through lights, and we want to inspire and motivate others.

LGB: What would you want to share with other parents of autistic children after years of personal experience? 

JH: It’s a long and complicated journey. If you accept it as “destiny” that you have to bear and live through, then you often may feel you have “failed.” But every “destiny” has a side that brings its own satisfaction. As much as I feel that I’ve lost with Adam, I’ve also gained a lot. You only realize much later that these losses were not worth crying about and the experience you gain is a treasure you would not have otherwise found. To raise an autistic child is not often comfortable–sometimes it can be really rough. But I live by the saying, “You can only lose if you give up!”

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Author:Katka Konecna-Rivera

Katka Konecna-Rivera, co-founder and host of Living Green with Baby, is an architect focused on sustainable design as well as a filmmaker, writer and personal wellness coach.

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