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Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen.
Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen. | Show Photo

For Good

Firefly Arts: Gathering families, helping kids with autism

Before Rebecca Covert founded Firefly Arts, she worked as a storyteller and teaching artist for eight years locally. But when she had a son with an autism spectrum disorder, she discovered a new challenge: "My whole job was to engage children in literacy and math through an arts curriculum," Covert recalls. "But I’d go home and I couldn’t even get my own son to respond.”
 
Working at the problem, she discovered ways that art could still work “to bring my son out of his shell, build a relationship with us and focus on the world.”
 
Firefly, currently applying to be an official nonprofit, held its first gathering of families in November. Group members have already provided art activities for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's autism-friendly Nutcracker performance, while Covert has been asked to work with autistic kids at a local camp and at various arts organizations.
 
“We want to build community among families raising autistic children through art activities,” Covert explains. “We’re using arts as an accessible means to develop concept knowledge … which is a difficult thing for autistic children. It’s all about taking an abstract concept and making it a concrete experience.” Some children with autism, for example, may be able to learn gross motor movement as part of a dance but, when asked to make a doll dance, may not be able to make the connection between the two ideas.
 
Firefly's teaching artists may present movement, visual arts and music to help the kids explore different concepts, such as making friends, riding the bus or figuring out what "our neighborhood” signifies.
 
Parents will be able to enjoy the program as a stress release, respite, creative outlet and chance to socialize, Covert says. In the proposed 8-week program, while kids work with teaching artists, parents will get such things as cooking classes, yoga and photography courses. "They don’t want to be here and talk about autism," Covert says she found in speaking with parents at Firefly's first event. "They want to be here and meet new people and take a step away” from the very demanding task of raising their kids.
 
Before its main program is finalized, Firefly artists will be conducting one arts workshop each month, January through March, for whole families, perhaps exploring habitats, such as the ocean and rainforest.
 
Families can register online to be part of Firefly's programs. The fledgling group also has a Facebook page and an  fundraising campaign (with video)
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Rebecca Covert, Firefly Arts
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