Walk With Me-17
By Carol Englehaupt
Josh wanted to paint, but how? His grip was so poor he couldn’t hold the paint brush. He couldn’t even maintain a fist. He tried. Oh my, how he tried. And my heart broke into little pieces watching him struggle. But my soul, I was so proud of his determination.
There isn’t any give-up in Josh. Finally, one day, I straightened up and said, “If only paintbrushes had handles like screw drivers.”
My husband looked at us, stood up, and vanished into the garage. He came back a little while later and handed me what became Josh’s first paint brush. He had taken the metal part out of the screw driver, cut down one of the artist brushes we’d been trying to use and inserted it into the screwdriver handle. And finally, Josh had a tool he could grip with enough strength to hold.
He could grip the handle but he still had trouble maintaining his hold for any length of time. His reflexes were wild. Every time his head would turn his hand would pop open. But his concentration, my gosh, I wish I had a tenth of it. He would focus in on the paint and the paper and nothing else existed.
I tried wrapping his hand and brush with Velcro. When the hand popped open, the brush would slip. I tried tape. Once. He vetoed that idea real fast. I finally resorted to holding my hand gently around his while he made the strokes. And over time, his grip grew stronger and his control, never good, got better. I was able to move my hand from around his and slide up to his forearm and elbow.
I still have to hold his arm for him, If I didn’t he’d never be able to maintain a mid-line position but he puts the paint on the paper. He makes the strokes. He creates the paintings.
With the physical problem of getting the paint to the paper out of the way, I turned my attention to figuring out how to teach him the technique of art.
He can’t draw. His lack of fine motor skills prevents that but his eye. He can see composition so much better than I can. His sense of color is stronger. But being non-verbal, how does he tell me?
He paints flowers because a flower, painted loosely, is still identifiable as a flower. Shape and color matter more than detail. We looked through magazines, seed catalogs, calendars, flower gardens. We took lots of photographs. I always know when he finds a subject to paint because he goes ‘on point’.
There is no mistaking his excitement when he sees something he likes. Once he chooses his subject matter, we compile a lot of pictures, different angles, different sizes, different stages of growth, even different colors.
I scan the different pictures into the computer and enlarge them to a size he can work on. Sometimes to get them big enough I crop them into pieces, print them out, and tape them together.
Once we have enough flower shapes, I start to move them around and he chooses where he wants each bloom, each leaf etc. placed on his paper. This may not sound very difficult, and some people may say, “He doesn’t do the work, his mother does.”
I’m never sure how to respond to that because, yes. I physically help him but I don’t make the decisions. I don’t decide what goes where. I don’t choose the colors. And we’ve had some major disagreements when it comes to color.
I remember once when he told me he wanted to use a certain blue and I disagreed with him. He really let me have it and if you think a non-verbal child can’t be vocal, you’d be wrong. I finally folded the reference page back and held it against the paint pan and I was wrong and he was right. I don’t argue with him any more about color.
In the early days, I created a paint chart for him. As he grew in skill and knowledge I bought him a big commercial chart. He uses the chart to tell me what colors he wants to use. It starts with eye-gaze. I’ll get the general idea of what he’s looking at, then I’ll start pointing, and he’ll do eye raise for yes, head shake for no and, pretty quickly, he can make it known to me what he’s looking at.
The composition of each painting is his. I follow his instructions. He holds the brush, he chooses the layout, he decides what colors he wants to use. Is he independent as a painter? No. But when I watch him hold that brush. When it might take him ten or fifteen minutes to get a tight enough grip to make a stroke that lasts less than a minute. When I see the focus, the determination, the concentration, and the gut deep want-to, then I don’t claim any part of his work. He’s earned the right to be called an artist.