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Gabriel and LaMon Artistically Tackle Autism

Art, although vaguely confirmed by numbers, is widely respected as an alternative to traditional forms of therapy. In New York, two ladies have taken the lead in promoting art education for special needs, Jenna Gabriel and Maria LaMon.

Jenna Gabriel interviews after stage play performance interview.

Jenna Gabriel post stage play performance interview.

Jenna Gabriel is the executive director of Daytime Moon Creations in New York City. The company offers recreational art activities for special needs young adults and children. Daytime Moon Creations focuses on dramatic arts, which it uses to promote creative expression.

Maria LaMon is the owner of The Music Academy for Special Learners based in Ronkonkoma, NY. The facility provides music and arts lessons for young adults and children with special needs. LaMon is also the creator of Visual Music Concepts, a visual and auditory approach to learning music, which is implemented into her student’s curriculum.

Maria LaMon speaks at The Music Academy for Special Learner's recital.

Maria LaMon speaks at The Music Academy for Special Learner’s recital.

Although located in seemingly separate parts of New York both ladies are subjects of Art-Is-Umm: The Way To Heal, a documentary about Art’s impact on children with Autism. Autism is on the rise as numbers have gone from 1 in 88 to 1 in 50.

Gabriel and LaMon’s approach to learning may differ, but their intent’s are similar. Simply stated Art in any form opens the gate to communication.

Gabriel mentions that lessons should be perceived as an evolution from week to week as this keeps children progressing toward the end goal of performing a stage play at the end of the program.

“We don’t have cookie cutter program. We don’t have a curriculum that is the same for every program. Each lesson should speed into and propel us into the one that follows.”

Likewise LaMon notes that learning is different for every child especially those on the spectrum and needs to be taught in a reverse manner to allow children the opportunity to witness the fun in playing.

“You can’t start teaching these kids on a traditional style because you would lose them,” LaMon said. “My point is to teach them to play first and then, backwards, teach them the theory.”

Similarly Gabriel uses structured games to promote independence while encouraging children to abide by rules.

Jenna removes items from the character costume bin during a lesson at Daytime Moon Creations.

Jenna removing items from the character costume bin during a lesson at Daytime Moon Creations.

“In the first few (lessons) it’s about games,” Gabriel said. “We play a lot of freeze dance. I call freeze dance the great equalizer because no matter what the energy in the room is freeze dance gets everyone on the same page. We have built in control, behavior, ownership, excitement, confidence and choice making. It’s a great game. We have that in every lesson somewhere.”

LaMon adds that the benefits of Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy are important to special needs children’s development because she believes that there is more to children than the ability to follow rigid systems.

Maria instructs Steven Heinz during a practice session.

Maria instructs Steven Heinz during a practice session.

“The school systems (that) I know focus on academics and state testing.,” LaMon said. “It’s very important, but sometimes I’ve noticed the talents that these kids have is in music and art. As a society we don’t look deeper. Music and art is something that kids feel good about. They need therapy, but I try to put myself in their shoes. If you focus on their positives a lot of times the things that they lack in follow suit.”

Gabriel and LaMon are valued subjects of Art-Is-Umm: The Way To Heal and continue to demonstrate how the Art’s impact children with special needs’ development.

Photos and quotes courtesy of Artisumm LLC a subsidiary of D.S. Artistry Productions

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