Art aid for special needs children

A series of free painting classes launched in the capital yesterday is aimed at enabling pupils to express their feelings.

ABU DHABI // A series of free art classes launched in the capital yesterday, aimed at helping children with Down syndrome and autism vent their thoughts and feelings. Start, a Dubai-based charity, has teamed up with the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation (Admaf) to host Wednesday Wonders, weekly painting and drawing classes for children aged nine to 14 with special needs. There are 10 students attending the classes, which will run for the next five weeks with more sessions to follow.

Yesterday afternoon two art teachers helped by a handful of volunteers from Takatof, a volunteering programme launched by the Emirates Foundation, gathered in the National Theatre to show the children how to use colour and shape to aid their social expression. The programme has been running in Dubai as Start Tuesdays since the summer of 2008. Nicola Lee, 24, the Start volunteer leading the class, said: "The colours they choose reflect their moods and sometimes their pictures say more than they could possibly manage in words. Plus, it is a real confidence boost for them to achieve something. It makes them really proud and encourages them to do more."

The children were recruited from facilities organised under the Zayed Higher Organisation for Humanitarian Care, Special Needs and Minor Affairs. One of them, Rashid, aged nine, was responding well, said his teacher, Shuhoud al Ali. He chose animals to represent his family members, and although he cannot talk, his paintings told his story, she said. "He loves colours and will often spend a lot of time drawing, so this class is excellent for him."

Robyl Villeza, 45, said it was the first time his son, Ryle Christian, 14, had attended any such classes. "We are very grateful to all facilities that cater for children like Ryle," he said. "He finds it very difficult to communicate and only knows a few words. But he loves colours and painting and it really brings out his character when he starts working with paint." Hoda Kanoo, the founder of Admaf, said every child had the right to creative expression.

"Special needs children are at the top of that list," she said. "They can give and they are very creative." The sessions would continue, and the artwork created in them could be featured in an exhibition, she said.