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Stories | 07.18.19

The SJP Experience: Starting an Art Class for Teenagers and Adults on the Autism Spectrum

At Adler University, first-year students work with community organizations as intern advocates to help advance social justice. At the end of each year, students present on what they have experienced and learned through their Social Justice Practicum (SJP) at campus-wide events—and here on our University blog.

Elisha-Rio Apilado, a student in the Master of Arts in Counseling: Art Therapy program, showcased a collection of art—both her own and her students’—at the Chicago Campus 2019 Social Justice Practicum Symposium on May 28, where she presented on her time working with the Answer Inc. The organization supports and advocates for families impacted by Autism and developmental disorders and even houses a Spectrum University, where interns like Apilado tutor students.

During her practicum, Apilado started Spectrum University’s first arts and crafts class and honed her passion for eliminating race-based disparities to health care access for minorities. We had the opportunity to chat with Apilado about her time at Answer Inc. after her symposium presentation:

What did you enjoy most about your internship at the Answer Inc.?

I enjoyed the different reactions and interpretations of each art project we did with the students. Because they are all on varying degrees of the Autism Spectrum and have different levels of cognitive and physical capabilities, the way each student interacted with the art supplies and followed directions was exciting to see. The art making process allowed me to get a glimpse into how individuals in this population may interact with art materials in the sense of their fine motor skills limitations.

For example, the simple detail of how a crayon was held and pressed against a piece of paper differed between each student, thus creating multiple forms of art expressions. This added another level into art making that I hadn’t thought about because I have been trained in the specific utilization of certain art materials.

How do you think this experience has impacted your studies and future career?

It has definitely widened my worldview even more. Coming from a Pacific Islander/Asian American perspective and understanding our cultures and struggles, I believe it was imperative for me to see the lens from an African American, low-socioeconomic-status community. I learned a lot about the racial disparities with this particular population when it comes to disorder diagnosis and it has motivated me to continue researching and discovering ways these gaps in healthcare and racial disparities can be bridged. I truly appreciated how this SJP experience has fostered growth in my interest of multicultural competency in counseling.

What are your future plans?

My art therapy interest has grown. I want to hopefully work with populations who have physical and cognitive impairments. This causes a barrier to their art making that I wish to help overcome with these clients and empower them to find healing through the arts, regardless of their situation. I plan to also continue doing more research on the racial disparities in health care and diagnosis within my Filipino and Filipino-American community.

Why is important to you to work to help marginalized communities and advance social justice?

I want to make sure everybody has a voice or is at least given the chance and understanding that they are important enough to have a voice—regardless of the color of their skin, their socioeconomic status, education level, and so forth. Having immigrant parents and witnessing their struggles assimilating to the American culture and seeing firsthand how they don’t feel empowered enough to make a difference in the political status of this country is heart breaking. I believe art therapy is a way to heal through this obstacle and has the power to change this mindset for the better.

What does social justice mean to you?

Social justice is equality across all different factors of life. It’s a reminder that all of us are individuals with one goal: to survive and be happy along with keeping those we love happy. We cannot get to this point unless we come together and empower ourselves and others.

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