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In her bright world

She may be autistic but that doesn't stop her from putting her thoughts down in vivid colour

Published on July 20, 2007

Visitors to Chulalongkorn University's Jamjuree Art Gallery this month have been delighted by the vivid paintings currently on show. Yet they're not the work of a well-known artist but the creations of Pitchaya "Manoi" Lertsapcharoen, a 13-year-old autistic girl attending the university's demonstration school.

The exhibition is the brainchild of the Special Education for Learning Ability Development programme. By presenting outstanding works, the school hopes to increase understanding of children with special needs.

Somsri Tritiphew, an assistant professor with the programme, says there are currently about 20 students to each class. "We arrange various groups as well as individual learning to help the children practise different skills and tailor our teaching to each student's ability and development."

Manoi's mother, Thevee, hopes research will eventually discover the cause of autism.

"I don't want other parents to suffer. I will do everything I can to help Manoi take care of herself. But after we die, she has to be as independent as possible."

Caring for an autistic youngster is a full-time task, she adds.

Somsri agrees. "We need cooperation from families. We are constantly gathering information so we can help the children adjust their behaviour and emotions to live normally in society. The teacher has to know each student, recognise their limits, as well as their good or bad points.

"We have to encourage them and bring their good points to the fore rather than looking at their weak points."

Each student, Somsri says, has a talent for something - be it art, sports or music. What they lack, however, is social understanding and acceptance.

As autistic individuals live in isolation from the rest of the world, a hobby is one of the few ways that allows them to communicate and Manoi does exactly that with her 70 colourful images.

"Many of the pictures are based on what she's seen. For example, the nurses are both from Yuwaprasart Waitharyopathum Child Psychiatric Hospital, where she studied when she was young, and from Chulalongkorn Hospital where her father works. We know the difference because the psychiatric hospital doesn't treat patients with broken bones," explains Thevee.

"When her father brings her to Chula, he usually tells her to stay in his room because he has a class or cases to work on, but she walks around and sees pictures of injured people. When she accidentally bumps into her father, she smiles bashfully and runs straight back to the room."

Manoi paints the nurses with smiles and the hospitals in bright colours, indicating that she considers them as happy places.

"Marry", the picture that won her the Supreme Gold Award at the 36th International Children's Art Exhibition in Tokyo in 2005, is inspired by "Fan Chan" ("My Girl"), her favourite film.

Her parents and teacher spent several days going through hundreds of paintings to select the best.

"Manoi draws and paints every day and I keep them all in a big plastic bag. Some had crumpled or faded. The teacher helped us fix them and Manoi herself filled in the colours.

"We worked hard to get this exhibition together. Fortunately, as the gallery is undergoing renovations, it had a free room so we were able to show Manoi's works," Thevee says.

Her mother looked on with a quiet smile as the teen ran and hopped around the room. "I don't know exactly how she feels about the show because she can't tell me in words but looking at her, I can tell she's happy."

"The Colourful World of Manoi" runs through Friday at Jamjuree Art Gallery, Chulalongkorn University and is open from 10am to 7pm. For more information visit Geocities.com/colorful_manoi or call (02) 218 3709.

Nattaporn Luangpipat

The Nation

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