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Come Look at Me
Art And Culture

Come Look at Me

One will rarely hear an autistic child say “Look at Me.”
Ironically, “Look at Me” is the title of an ongoing exhibition of 55 paintings created by autistic children aged under 14 years that opened on Tuesday in Tehran.  
The exhibit statement reads: My world is different from yours, I do not see the colors the way you do. I hear sounds differently. But this does not mean that I am disabled; see my unique abilities.    
Vibrant paintings on display at Ariana Art Gallery are the fruit of a campaign that started six months ago in which a group of autistic children were supervised, trained and assisted to unleash their creativity in paintings.    
Incorporating diverse media, the works comprise a diverse range of subject matter that includes improvisational real-life portraits, as well as remakes of Iranian miniatures and renowned paintings by world-famous artists such as ‘The Son of Man’ by Rene Magritte.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted and repetitive behavior. Autism affects one in 70 children in Iran. At present, 3,000 people with autism have been identified in the country, but it is believed that the actual figure could be much higher.
 A Samsung CSR
The campaign and the exhibition that followed were part of Samsung’s Children of Hope campaign—one of the company’s corporate social responsibility projects in Iran.
The project has been carried out in collaboration with Ravan Pajouhan Mofid, an institute dedicated to psychological and rehabilitative activities for individuals with special needs such as the intellectually or physically disabled and the psychologically challenged.
Samsung’s Chief Marketing Officer Farhad Jamalpour said the main goal of the event is to raise awareness about autism and to empower children diagnosed with the disorder.
Engaging in the creation of fine arts is an effective method for boosting the confidence, concentration and understanding of autistic children, he said.    

 Special App
The company has also launched an application named “Look at Me,” which aims at developing the skills of autistic children.
One of the issues that impairs the quality of life for autistic children is that they find it difficult to make eye-contact. Jamalpour says statistics indicate that nearly 60% of children diagnosed with autism who used the application have showed signs of improvement in visual contact and emotional interaction.
Samsung had also previously taken on a series of successful CSR projects including equipping schools in underdeveloped areas with smart classrooms, creating an audio library for visually impaired children and setting up technical-mechanical educational centers that train and prepare Iranian youth for the job market.

 Sense of Achievement
Dr. Hossein Mofidi, member of the board of directors at Ravan Pajouhan Mofid, analyzed some of the artworks, explaining that the ability to paint an image induces “a sense of achievement among the children and effectively boosts their confidence and hand-eye coordination.”
Also present at the event were members of a campaign called “Be My Voice” comprising activists as well as the parents of autistic children who actively help raise awareness on the disorder.
One concerned mother said that for autistic children to receive the care they deserve there is still “a long way to go.”
There still aren’t enough “specialized learning facilities for these kids, while the boys face problems when they request to be exempted from conscription,” she said.

 Challenges  
Furthermore, Reza Khamaki, 23, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in his childhood, detailed the challenges he faced while growing up.
“I first found it difficult to walk, I had to be pushed in a stroller to get to school until I was seven years old and for this reason I was ridiculed. I also flunked a grade and at first they thought I was mentally disabled.”
Khamaki listed hypersensitivity to touch, hearing and smell as well as non-typical social behaviors as some of his problems for which he receives rehabilitative treatment to this day.
“Before I was diagnosed I thought I must be a horrible person and that’s why no one wants to be friends with me, but after diagnosis and therapy things have changed for the better.”  
The exhibition runs through Friday (Feb. 18) at no. 9, Fayyazi Street (Fereshteh), Elahiyeh. Visiting hours are 4-8 pm.

 

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