Beautiful minds: Empowering artists with autism

Sense Kaleidoscopes: Autism Life Academy's 'Earn while you Learn' enables students to explore art merchandising avenues.

As designers at The Other Design Studio, we have collaborated with various NGOs, including Akshara Foundation, Pratham Books, Azad India Foundation, Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies Foundation, and numerous others for almost two decades. Through this work, we have gained a profound understanding of the social system.

Angeline Pradhan and Upesh Pradhan run The Other Design Studio, which does branding to illustration to animation and videos. They have covered everything and a little more as a design studio.

In 2022, our design experience with Samaaj, Sarkaar, Bazaar, a collection of over a decade of articles, interviews, and speeches by Rohini Nilekani, inspired us to give back in meaningful ways. The book showcases her journey in the civil society sector and outlines her philosophy of restoring the balance between the state and markets by positioning society as the foundational sector.

An unexpected turning point came through our collaboration with Sense Kaleidoscopes for an annual report. It led us to a cause we had not worked with before – Autism.

Working closely with autistic children and young adults opened our eyes to their daily challenges. We recognised a lack of understanding and support for autistic young adults and took on a more active role, becoming Managing Trustees and joining the core team.

Like any other school, Sense Kaleidoscopes had a humble beginning with just two students. Akshayee Shetty did every little thing to ensure that children with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome were given the attention they needed. She cleaned the space, painted the walls, cooked treats, took the children to restaurants and movies, and cleaned up after Holi and Christmas while researching and developing curriculum and setting up exhibitions in India and internationally.

Art education

It was set up as one of the first art schools in the country to train people with autism to become professional artists. It is also the first interactive smart classroom to teach academics to children with autism. Smart classrooms enhance the teaching and learning process for both the teachers and the students by integrating audio, video, animations, images, multimedia etc. This increases the engagement factor and leads to better performance.

mono print with faces
Monoprint by Adarsh. Pic: Anand K

Read more: For parents of children with autism, this project promises early intervention

Today, Sense Kaleidoscopes is a thriving art school, which does professional skilling for individuals with autism. This department’s research has led to the development of an autism-specific artist training curriculum, which is now also proving to be useful to those with Cerebral Palsy (CP), Down’s Syndrome, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Intellectual Disability (ID).

This curriculum is not just only providing them with vocational skills but is also therapeutic. The department is now divided into artist training, research and development to design curriculum and create livelihood opportunities. We have already worked with 55 students in this department.

With our passion for this cause, we are committed to supporting Sense Kaleidoscopes and making a difference in Samaaj. We aim to involve the Sarkaar and bring awareness of this cause to the Bazaar. The more people understand and contribute, we can achieve a greater positive impact on the lives of autistic individuals and their families. Together, we can create a more inclusive and supportive society for everyone.

modern painting
Painting by Kailash. Pic courtesy: The Other Design Studio

Earn while you learn programme

Autism, also known as neurodivergence, is often misunderstood. It is not a disease but a different cognitive functioning. Each person on the autism spectrum is unique, requiring varying degrees of support. While autism is not curable, some individuals need assistance for certain aspects of life.

Unfortunately, there is an increased risk of mental health issues, self-harm, and suicidal tendencies among individuals with autism. Furthermore, there is a shortage of validated assessments and adapted psychological therapies.

Sense Kaleidoscopes: Autism Life Academy focuses on integrating autistic children aged 5 to 13 into mainstream academics for better integration into society. The Art Academy, another initiative, supports teenagers and young adults aged 16 to 25 based on their artistic talent, offering an “earn while you learn” programme.

The intent of the art programme is to provide the best in the creative space. Many research papers have established that the arts provide independence and foster a sense of collaboration, demonstrate a process of self-expression, imagination, and creativity, and create a way to understand difficult abstractions.

a girl holding up her painting
Art by Tanush. Pic courtesy: The Other Design Studio

Read more:  Autism and the city: Intervention and support services widely available in Bengaluru

Autism-specific academic curriculum

Sense Kaleidoscopes also runs an academic school for autism. It has smart classrooms with four students in each class, one lead teacher, and an assistant. The academy enables students to either join inclusive schools at the right time or pursue their NIOS/State/CBSE Grade 10 exams – all done in autism-specific environments with research and development in designing an autism-specific academic curriculum.

A handful of dedicated souls have been quietly changing the way children with autism can be taught. If you look behind the stoic façade, you will see a team that is researching to find new ways of teaching concepts in art and academics, building content so that all these learnings can go into the transformative autism-specific curricula and teaching classes and hand-holding parents through difficult phases.

drawing of a lady bug
Art by Kalash. Pic courtesy: The Other Design Studio

Beautiful minds exhibition

Beautiful minds exhibition held at Bangalore Creative Circus
Beautiful Minds, an art exhibition by people with autism, at the Bengaluru Creative Circus. Pic: Anand K

This year, as part of our autism awareness drive, we are hosting Beautiful Minds, an art exhibition in collaboration with our patrons Manisha Vinod and Ajay Raghavan at Bangalore Creative Circus, which is a unique space by design for all things sustainable.

Eight artists with autism are showcasing their marvellous works. The exhibition is proof that their works are no less priceless, considering the lifelong challenges of motor function and cognition that autism has them contend with.

The exquisite works of Kalash Cariappa, Rohit Anand, Tanush Pulsay, Adarsh Shetty, Anshika Sawale, Ayush Bhambhani, Sakshi Chalke and Shreyas Pandey are on display at the venue every day from 11 am to 6 pm until August 27th.

The exhibition is the outcome of the autism-specific advanced art programme. which is the first skilling programme of its kind in India that ensures artistic excellence through strength-based curricula designed for and with artistically inclined individuals with autism.

The artists have previously exhibited at the Kochi Biennale Outsider Artist Exhibition, the Paris Outsider Art Fair, and the Bystander Project curated by the Kadak Collective, with one artist being awarded the ‘Not Just Art’ Student award by UNESCO in New Delhi. These artworks have also successfully found a place in the merchandising sectors with the likes of lifestyle-producing lines of womenswear, menswear, and home décor products.

Making a difference

Sense Kaleidoscopes also stands tall because its children have proven that they can surprise the world. We smile through our challenges because the incredible feeling of making a difference in lives, which are most often ignored or treated as if they were invisible, is worth it.

How does a small team do work that crosses the boundaries of teaching, research, content, creating livelihoods, fundraising and marketing? By pushing themselves to the limit each day and putting the school and the children ahead of everything else. Sense Kaleidoscopes works hard so that its children lose no more time.

Sense Kaleidoscopes: Address and contact details

Sense Kaleidoscopes a Unit of Ayathi, 805, 5th Cross Rd, HRBR Layout 1st Block, Kalyan Nagar, Bengaluru, Karnataka-560043


Visit their website and Instagram account.

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