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Heart of Utah: UVU online art gallery showcases works by people with autism

"Love," by Benjamin Navas. Photo: Utah Valley University

OREM, Utah — Therapists increasingly use art as a way to help people with a variety of conditions from Alzheimer’s to autism. Now, the artwork of a five year old with autism is on display at UVU. 

Learning and communicating through art

The special art showcase through Utah Valley University features the work of Benjamin Navas, age 5. His father, Jorge, says Benjamin was diagnosed with autism when he was about two years old. According to Jorge Navas, Benjamin draws animals, fish, insects, dinosaurs and monsters as a means for learning and communication. 

Initially, Benjamin used chalk, pencil and crayons. Now, his medium of choice is markers on a white board. 

“He draws whatever animal he sees,” Jorge Navas said. “He’s in the window, waiting for birds to come, all kinds of birds and insects. Then he runs to the whiteboard and draws these little animals. We went to the aquarium, and he came back and drew everything.” 

The drawings show details, movement, feelings and emotions, and help Benjamin learn reading, numbers, colors and more. 

Artwork and autism at UVU

Now, Benjamin’s artwork is on display through the Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism at UVU, the fourth year of the art gallery there — but online this year, because of the pandemic.

uvu autism artwork with benjamin navas

Benjamin, an autism art showcase participant, has his photo taken in the photo studio on the campus of Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah, October 30, 2020. (Photo: Erik Flores, UVU Marketing)

The showcase includes contributions from around 50 different artists, from preschool age up to adulthood.

“For many people with autism, they have a strengthened visual component. What they see is one of their areas of strength. That comes through with art. It’s a stronger form of communication for them sometimes. Everyone has something to say,” said the center’s associate director, Laurie Bowen.

A safe place to thrive

Bowen says their building came about from hundreds of donors in the community: moms and dads and grandparents of people with autism.

“If you think about belonging, it’s that place where you are safe to thrive. Belonging creates better communities, better students, and healthier people,” said Bowen.

They would normally have a 3D component to their art display, like sculpture or knitted works, and people would walk through the displays. This year being online, they hope the artwork can reach more people.

“I want to say thank you to the Utah Valley Center for autism and all these activities we do in the community,” said Jorge Navas. “It is great to share with a community connected by autism. Sharing these special things is very important for these kids.”

The online showcase runs through May. It can be found at https://superspectrum.myportfolio.com.

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