Within the bright and colorful walls of the Lemon Street Gallery, Islands of Brilliance, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit organization, hosted a workshop for neurodiverse people and their families titled Sandbox.
The workshop, which travels to cities across Wisconsin, hit the road for the first time this year and showcases different aspects of the nonprofit’s programming. The organization aims to teach an art, design and STEM-based curriculum to help people with autism develop technical skills and practice social and emotional learning.
Angela Ruesch attended the workshop with her children after learning about the event at an autism conference.
“I think (Sandbox) is amazing,” Ruesch said. “Especially because you can bring siblings.
The workshop started with an activity called Natterdays, designed to help people with storytelling skills. Participants completed a Mad Libs-style worksheet and an “about me” worksheet and shared their work with the rest of the group.
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The next part of the workshop was the Doodle Lab, in which participants created different works of art on the iPad via procreated and traditional paper and pencil.
The workshop ended with Smactivities, in which participants constructed objects from Popsicle sticks, paper, pipe cleaners, googly eyes and more. Some creations included an origami dinosaur and a monster truck made from foam circles and pipe cleaners.
“It was really exciting to be in different parts of Wisconsin,” said Natalie Derr, creative technologist for Islands of Brilliance. “I think the more we can go out and get our word out, the more we can spread this and get more people involved.”
Islands of Brilliance was founded by Mark and Margaret Fairbanks, who have a son with autism, in 2012.
When their son was younger, their son noticed Mark was using digital illustration software and asked to try it. After minimal instruction, he drew his favorite character at the time – Percy from Thomas the Tank Engine.
“And that’s when we were like, ‘Oh my God, area of interest, technology and a little education – what’s going to happen? ‘ said Margaret.
Margaret and Mark tested their idea of including art, design and STEM-based education at Discovery World in Milwaukee and their programs, which are all based on these principles, have grown steadily from.
“I think it’s great that they’re reaching out to children with disabilities or autism,” Ruesch said. “I think it’s so great.”