Small step for art, one giant step for autism

WHEN JANETKA Platun learned that Project Ability was looking for an artist to undertake a residency programme involving three primary school autism units in Glasgow, she had no qualms about upping sticks from London and moving to Scotland for 15 months.

She has been helping children with autism to engage in the visual arts since she left college 12 years ago and she's passionate about it, she says. A sculptor and installation artist, Ms Platun arrived in Glas-gow in March last year, to spend one day a week for 16 weeks in each of three autism units in Ruchill, St Vincent's (Thornliebank) and Toryglen primary schools.

When the residencies end, the difficult process of deciding which works of art should feature in the project's exhibition, opening on May 12, begins.

"The quality of work produced by the kids is surprising and amazing," she says. "The project has given them the space to develop their ideas and express themselves in a way that the normal curriculum doesn't.

"It's small steps each week," she explains, "starting with a simple exercise like giving each child a paper clip, getting them to twist it into a different shape, drawing the shape on a piece of paper, then discussing what the new shape looks like."

"For me, it's all about the art. I'm not a teacher or a therapist, so my focus is always on helping kids to articulate and express their ideas in a visual way. There is no right or wrong way of doing art, which means art is something children with autism have control over."

Ms Platun recalls how she brought in charcoal sticks one day for the children to experiment with and one boy crushed some up and laid it out in a conveyor belt-like formation. He called it "Charlie and the Charcoal Factory", and she thought: "Turner Prize!"

The autism units in Glasgow are "great places", she says: "The programme I have been involved in shows that having an artist in residence enhances their education."

Janetka Platun will hold a seminar about her residency on June 12 in Glasgow at Project Ability T 0141 552 2822


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