Heights art school offers classes geared toward children with autism

Herald/CATRINA RAWSON - Children participate in an art class at Cordovan Art School Friday in Harker Heights. Cordovan Art School partnered with SKIESUnlimited extracurricular program at Fort Hood to create the class Art Across the Spectrum. The class is geared toward children with autism.

By Rose L. Thayer

Killeen Daily Herald

HARKER HEIGHTS - Every Tuesday, Denetha Coe's 11-year-old son, Demichael, begins reminding her about his art class at Harker Heights' Cordovan Art School the next day.

"He doesn't want to be late," Coe said.

Demichael was diagnosed with autism for delayed speech and his mother said art gives him one more way he can express himself.

"Autism is a communication disorder. It's like speaking a foreign language to you, and you have to learn to speak their language," Coe said.

Demichael often tries to spell or write out what he's trying to say, because his speaking skills are about seven years behind his other skills.

"So we have given him another outlet," Coe said.

Demichael has also been able to include many of the things he already loves into his art lessons, such as Spongebob Squarepants, superheroes and animals.

"I like the colors," Demichael said, proud to share that he got to paint a green alligator last class.

Cordovan's owners noticed a need for classes focused toward children on the autism spectrum some time ago and have been working since then to develop the right type of class.

"We've had autistic children come in, and we've seen that there's a need," said Justin Mabey, co-owner of Cordovan. "We decided to take our time and develop slowly."

The school decided to take the idea to the SKIESUnlimited extracurricular program at Fort Hood. Cordovan and SKIES often partner to provide military children with a variety of classes. Children register through Child, Youth and School Services and then attend the classes off-post at Cordovan.

SKIES also saw the need within its own program and together the two are now offering an art class called Art on the Spectrum, for children across the autism spectrum.

The adapted classes have a lower student-teacher ratio than most and are more exploratory than technical. Instead of focusing on just painting or pastels, the class incorporates all types of art.

"They are more exploratory in nature to help kids get to know the process of art," Mabey said.

Sky Clarke, the director of the SKIESUnlimited program at Fort Hood, has a master's degree in special education. She said autistic children have always participated in SKIES classes, but she is looking forward to the specialization Cordovan's will provide.

"It's an opportunity to feel successful and included within a group, as well as provide one-on-one additional support to these kids," Clarke said. "We hope it will be a way to boost their confidence and have a way to express themselves."

Rhea Brown, the Cordovan instructor teaching the class, said she planned to start these new classes with something very basic, to learn the children's skill level.

"However they respond, I'll make it more complicated or simple," Brown said.

The monthly Art Across the Spectrum class is available through Fort Hood's SKIESUnlimited program. For more information, go to www.hoodmwr.com/skiesunlimited. Civilians interested in classes at Cordovan Art School can go to www.cordovanartschool.com.

Contact Rose L. Thayer at rthayer@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7463. Follow her on Twitter at KDHreporter.

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