Making a difference with art

An assessment done on students of Different Arts Centre in Thiruvananthapuram brings the perks of art therapy to light

Amal Ajayakumar is in his late teens; though basic communication is a challenge for him, Amal is a walking music library. “He has over a 100 songs stored in his brain and the way he sings, with such clarity and emotion often touches the listener,” says Gopinath Muthukad, magician and founder of Different Arts Centre (DAC). Amal, who is autistic, is one of the students at the centre which was started with 100 young people with disabilities in Thiruvananthapuram in 2019.

An assessment done by the Institute of Communicative and Cognitive Neurosciences (ICCONS) and the Child Development Centre (CDC) on the students here revealed that art therapy can make a difference to the lives of those with intellectual disabilities. It showed a significant improvement in their EQ, IQ, behaviour and gross and fine motor skills. Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Kerala, KK Shylaja, who received the report at an event held in Thiruvananthapuram, said the Government has plans to set up similar initiatives in other districts as well.

Science in focus

  • Scientia, a research platform for students with disabilities, was recently opened at Magic Planet. The laboratory would be a space for the students to explore the world of science. The students would be guided by researchers and their work would be assessed and monitored. It was initiated in association with Kerala Government’s Social Security Mission. The idea is to instil scientific enquiry in children with disabilities.
  • Scientia had informally started functioning in April 2020; the students did experiments at home, which were assessed by their guides.
  • It aims to participate in national and international science congresses and host a National Science Congress by 2022, which would be led by students with disabilities

Started with an aim to bring about a qualitative difference to the lives of young adults with disabilities, the Different Arts Centre employs music, dance, painting, filmmaking to identify the students’ interests and develop them.

The Different Arts Centre, which is backed by the Department of Social Justice and Social Security Mission, gives a platform for the students to perform in front of the public. “Providing opportunities for these children to perform and showcase their talents went a long way in building their confidence. Our aim is to make them independent and mould them into citizens who contribute to society,” says Gopinath. The centre has students with spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, MR, depression and hyperactivity.

The idea of starting a centre for children with disabilities came to Gopinath when he happened to meet a mother-son duo during a programme at Kasaragod. “The mother spoke to me at length about the condition of her son who had autism and the challenges she faced to raise him. There are so many mothers like her who are struggling to raise their children with disabilities. I wanted to do my small bit towards making life easier for mothers like her,” says Gopinath. DAC also has a unit for mothers, called Karishma, which gives them income-generation opportunities.

The Different Arts Centre is an extension of M-Power, a performance space at Magic Planet, Gopinath’s theme park devoted to the art of magic, in Thiruvananthapuram.

“Through the healing power of art, if we can bring about a positive change in the lives of young people with disabilities, we should think about having more centres that train them in the arts,” Gopinath concludes.

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