Karine, Tigran, Levon, and Valeri sit in neat rows in a warm, sunny room filled with clay angels, stars, bells, and animals while soft music plays in the background, allowing them to focus on their own pottery class.
Very slowly, Levon becomes more comfortable. He turns to Valeri and delightfully announces, “I’m creating a butterfly.”
The 5-year-old developed speech problems after he broke his leg while playing. “He had just started uttering some words when it happened. He was frightened, he shut down and would not speak anymore,” says Levon’s grandmother Manya, who takes him to the pottery classes at the National Center Supporting Inclusive Education for CWDs.
The ceramic lab and pottery therapy has become possible through the generous support of the Mirak Weissbach Foundation. The sessions, held three times a week, are aimed at helping children with learning disabilities, including autism and verbal communication, to relax, focus their attention, and simply open up by playing and working with clay. Moreover, the therapeutic use of clay is a meaningful process for the Center pedagogues and teachers to overcome work-related stress or burnout.
Taguhi Stepanyan, the therapy teacher and still an Art Therapy MA Student, says that children like Levon and Valeri are bright but they have deficiencies in communications, coordination, and regulating emotions, while pottery and art therapy in general is one of the best solutions to help them overcome those issues.
“I witness their progress day by day. After my class, they usually go to the language or speech therapy room very relaxed. During the therapy, we also talk about the figures we’re creating – a butterfly, a lion, a turtle, meaning that children enhance their vocabulary as well and learn new words,” she says frankly noting that sometimes children get so engrossed into the process that she can hardly stop them when time is up. “The therapy also promotes self-esteem and confidence among such children, it increases social skills and gives them an opportunity to integrate into the group of peers,” she notes turning to Levon who is already done with his “butterfly” and shows it with pride and his eyes lit up with joy, and a gleaming smile spread across his face.
The National Center Supporting Inclusive Education for CWDs is sponsored by the Fund for Armenian Relief through generosity of our Friends "Hovsep Foundation," "The John Mirak Foundation" and "Myron and Mary Shahinian Stapanian Fund."