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SYC: Program lets kids with autism express themselves through artwork

Published: Jan. 18, 2021 at 5:39 AM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Heather Wagner with the Eastern Iowa Arts Academy gets a little emotional flipping through photos of old artwork from her students. She’s taught art classes to students with autism at Washington High school for the past six years.

“I miss them so much. I miss them all the time,” said Wagner. “Seeing what’s in their mind get put down on paper with different colors and different textures and different mediums, it’s an incredible experience to watch that come out on paper.”

She hasn’t seen the kids since March when the pandemic put the program on pause. Amy Shoemaker teaches students with autism at Washington, and helps Wagner with the program. She says it’s been a struggle to raise money for it this school year

“With the lack of not being able to go into the community,” she said. “Grants weren’t available.”

Luckily, they were able to secure grant money from The Iowa Arts Council, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and the Cedar Rapids Community School District Foundation is helping them relaunch the program next week. Wagner and Shoemaker say artwork lets the kids express themselves. Something that’s needed during the pandemic.

“We see a transition of skills. We see generalization of skills that they’re understanding what a circle is and how to do that or how many to make,” said Shoemaker. “Or how to blend colors and just express things that make them happy, make them sad.”

“Even though these kids aren’t necessarily verbal,” added Wagner. “They’re still feeling a lot of the stress and challenges we’re feeling. It’s going to be a great outlet for them.”

The pandemic is forcing the classes to go virtual this year. Wagner will enjoy seeing those smiling faces through a monitor.

“I can’t wait to see them,” she said. “I’m so excited for that. I miss them. They’re awesome.”

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