#HEALTH: "Speaking" through art

IT all started with Danial Kushairi.

Diagnosed with autism at age two, Danial eventually started showing a remarkable talent for art.

But helping Danial develop his talent proved to be a roller coaster ride for his dedicated mother, Rohani Ahmad.

Her efforts have borne fruit though as today, Danial, aged 21, is a full-time artist with a promising work profile.

Since his debut in 2019, he has made remarkable achievements. He co-authored and illustrated the children's story books, "Mr. Turtle to the Rescue" and "Ben Saves the Day", published in 2021 and 2022 respectively, and his latest achievement was his first solo art exhibition entitled "A Walk in the Park" held in March last year.

Danial's achievements spurred Rohani to tap hidden talents in visual arts among individuals with autism and in 2022, she founded the START Art Programme to develop and maximise the talents of these children.

"When parents and carers expose their special needs children to visual arts, it can serve as a platform for a future career, just like with Danial," she says.

START stands for "Special Talented Artists Rise Together" and provides a visual arts developmental programme for children with learning disabilities.

Though initially START focused on autistic children, others with various learning disabilities like dyslexia and ADHD have also benefited and the programme currently accommodates 15 children ranging in ages from 7 to 15 from mainly B40 backgrounds.

Those accepted into the programme undergo visual arts classes carried out by art teachers who are professional artists. These artists help boost the children's personal talent by exploring various visual arts techniques and maximising their imagination, ideas, creativity and uniqueness. Simultaneously, the resident therapists further stimulate the children's focus and concentration throughout lessons.

The peak of the programme is when these children present their artworks to society in actual art exhibitions.

"Children, particularly those with limited verbal expressions are able to communicate and convey their emotions better through art," says resident therapist Nur Syamimi Mohd Shif.

These children also become more confident, have better social interaction with others and the activities enhance their fine motor skills and coordination as many different art tools are used.

Nurul Aida Ishak, a shadow aide at START, says many of the children who were once very shy and hesitant to even seek help from teachers are now more confident. They are excited to do their tasks and rarely feel frustrated or stressed during lessons.

"Even those with verbal limitations have become more friendly, maintaining good eye contact and displaying better communication cues through suitable body language or gestures."

Rohani adds that START is hoping for financial assistance from governmental or non-governmental organisations to assist its initiatives for special needs children.

"Danial was the start, but through START, more special talented artists have risen and are now ready to use their talents as a source of income and they need our support."

For more information on START, go to the organisation's Instagram profile at st4rt_22.

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