Malaysian youth with autism showcases his artistic talent

Art therapy transcends words, empowering Vishaka to explore, and thrive through the vibrant canvas of self-discovery. Photos: Dr Sunitha Sivakumaran

Vishaka Jivan, 25, has moderate autism and limited speech, but art is a powerful medium of communication for the young man with special needs from Kuala Lumpur.

On Saturday, his mother Dr Sunitha Sivakumaran, 55, is organising an art exhibition – Vishaka’s Magic On Canvas – at the Kalamandapam Hall in Brickfields, KL which will display 20 pieces of his artwork.

Spanning various mediums such as acrylic and watercolour on canvas and cardboard, Vishaka’s paintings portray animals, birds and flowers.

Vishaka’s paintings are vibrant expressions of how he perceives the world around him. Vishaka’s paintings are vibrant expressions of how he perceives the world around him.Sunitha hopes the exhibition – held from 10am till 2pm – will become a catalyst in inspiring appreciation for differences and fostering inclusivity within the art world.

“What began as simple doodles without form has turned into a body of work with substance. Watching him express himself through his art has been a journey filled with joy and discovery. My husband and I are proud of the progress he has made.

“This exhibition is an opportunity for us to share his perspective with a broader audience. It is not just a showcase of his artistic abilities but also a chance to promote understanding and acceptance of autism,” said Sunitha in an email.

Embracing neurodiversity

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) display a diverse array of behaviours and challenges. It’s crucial to recognise that autism is not an illness with a cure; rather, it’s a lifelong condition that often necessitates ongoing care.

Understanding the spectrum’s nuances is key to providing appropriate support for individuals with autism.

Sunitha has noticed significant progress in her youngest son’s artistic talents when he first started art lessons when he was 15.

Sunitha wants to provide Vishaka (left) with the best possible opportunities to steer him towards independence.Sunitha wants to provide Vishaka (left) with the best possible opportunities to steer him towards independence.“My motivation to enrol him in art lessons stemmed from a strong belief in the distinctive talents that children with autism possess, ready to be discovered and developed.

“Initially, I introduced him to music, having a piano at home. However, it became apparent that his interest did not lie there. Then, I decided to explore other avenues, and that is when art came into the picture,” said Sunitha, a principal at a centre for children with special needs in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

She added that the joy he experienced during these classes became the driving force behind her decision to continue to send him for art lessons.

“It is not just about the end result but the process itself – the exploration, the experimentation and the happiness he found in creating something uniquely his own. His paintings are not mere representations but vibrant expressions of how he perceives the world around him,” she said, adding that Vishaka’s art pieces were exhibited at La Galerie Du Monde in PJ during the pandemic.

Amid the pride and joy, Sunitha, like all parents, harbours concerns about Vishaka’s future, when she and her husband are no longer around.

Organising the exhibition becomes Sunitha’s way of gradually helping him prepare for a life of independence.

With prices of the artwork starting from RM150, the exhibition aims to make Vishaka’s art accessible while supporting his future endeavours.

'Through art, we can foster understanding and acceptance of people with autism in our community,' says Sunitha. 'Through art, we can foster understanding and acceptance of people with autism in our community,' says Sunitha.“We want to ensure that he has the necessary resources and support for his future. We want to provide Vishaka with the best possible opportunities to thrive,” said Sunitha.

The mother of two added that Vishaka is undergoing training skills at a centre for young adults with special needs in Cheras, KL.

Sunitha and her husband, Dr Jivan E. Ponnampalam, have navigated numerous challenges in raising their youngest child. Moments of sadness and questions about the future arose, but through education about autism and connecting with support networks, acceptance followed.

“It is normal to feel a range of emotions when you first receive the diagnosis. It is important that you take the time you need to process these emotions,” said Sunitha, who shares photos of Vishaka’s paintings on her Facebook.

She advises parents of children with autism to embrace and celebrate their child’s neurodiversity.

“Provide a variety of experiences and activities for your child to explore. This helps them discover their strengths and interests, whether it’s in art, music or dance. Foster a nurturing and accepting environment at home. Celebrate your child’s achievements, no matter how small, and encourage a sense of pride in their abilities.

“Witnessing my son’s growth has taught me the importance of patience, resilience and flexibility in parenting.

“It has encouraged me to approach challenges with a positive mindset, seeking opportunities for growth and learning in every situation.”

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Disability , Autism , Art therapy


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