During April’s Autism Acceptance Month, SUNY New Paltz shared artwork created by autistic individuals. Autism Acceptance Month is intended to encourage connection, acceptance and inclusion for people with autism. Previously referred to as Autism Awareness Month, SUNY New Paltz has retired the former name. Autism Society encourages people to change their language to reflect a shift from altogether awareness, to striving for improved support and access for all autistic individuals across the social fabric.
Emi DiSciullo, a Learning Support Specialist at the Disability Resource Center (DRC) said, “This is important because individuals on the spectrum often feel misunderstood and may not have the platform to educate others about their disability.”
“While we will always work to spread awareness, words matter as we strive for autistic individuals to live fully in all areas of life,” said Christopher Banks, President and CEO of the Autism Society of America. “As many individuals and families affected by autism know, acceptance is often one of the biggest barriers to finding and developing a strong support system.”
“A newly available DRC Art Therapy space on campus offers students a safe space for creativity and expression, as well as connecting with others. Some materials provided at the space include paints, colored pencils, beads, collage materials and clay,” said DiSciullo. “Opportunities are provided for guided art activities and free choice creativity. It is a welcoming environment where students always have the option to share their work with others and talk about their process and reactions or simply let the art speak for itself.”
In addition to the Art Therapy space, the DRC offers multiple services to the approximate 60 students registered with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at the college. This includes individualized support meetings, group socialization, leadership and community service opportunities, providing access to accommodations and giving students with disabilities a place to go with questions or concerns. Unlike other schools, SUNY New Paltz does not charge for these ASD services.
One of the works of art featured by SUNY New Paltz was by third-year digital media and production major Jacob Contzius, which featured a painting of a dolphin on a gray stone. He created the piece after a guided tour of Mary Frank’s art exhibit at the Dorsky Museum of Art. Contzius drew inspiration from Franks’ depictions of animal and human hybrids after the group was prompted to paint themselves as their “spirit animals.”
He told The Oracle, “I picked the dolphin because dolphins have shown signs of human-like intelligence, and I highly value my capacity to reason. But I also long for the freedom of movement that dolphins must have, being able to maneuver agilely through the water. I’m not exactly athletic, and I struggle with time management, so I always feel like I’m stumbling through both space and time.”
“To show the dolphin is me, I added my signature hairstyle. I thought it’d be funny to make it look like I’d abruptly transformed into a dolphin, so I did my best to show the sleeves of my sweatshirt dangling off the flippers and the tail coming out one pant leg.”
“The freedom from my current physical and societal constraints is what the dolphin form represents to me,” Contzius said.