The founders of Autistry Studios, Janet Lawson and Daniel Swearingen are the parents of Ian, a teenager with autism. Looking ahead for their son and what his life would be like after high school they were very unhappy with the lack of appropriate services, work choices, and living situations available for people like their son. In initially small steps they started working to fill this gap in services.
Tyler Barbee, the brother of one of our Autistry students interviewed Janet for a high school project. His interview captures many of the issues faced by many families with autistic children.
The Autistry Studios program initially grew out of Janet’s private psychotherapy practice in Mill Valley, California where she worked with many teen and young adult clients with social/communication challenges. Janet realized that in order to help them with executive functioning and social skills issues she needed to be present when the obstacles occurred – telling her about it days after the event just wasn’t working! She began with a small group for girls, Girls Who Love Anime. The group met weekly and began making plushies (stuffed creatures) based on their drawings and clothing of their own design. It was successful and she looked for ways to work more with this population.
In September 2008, Dan, an astrophysicist/software designer and avid model builder (as well as an Aspie!) joined Janet and together they began offering model building classes in their home and backyard artist’s studio. They called the program “The Barn Project” and soon had workshops all weekend long. They helped students create models, movies, miniatures and a myriad other cool projects.
Soon, the Lawson/Swearingen home could no longer support the increasing number of students and in November 2010, The Barn Project became the nonprofit Autistry Studios and moved into the San Rafael warehouse/studio at 37 Duffy Place. In this 10,000 sq foot space the program quickly doubled in size.
The response to the Autistry Studios program has been resoundingly positive. many of the initial workshop students have remained in the program and continue to create new projects.
To ensure the continued success of the program it is essential that the instructors and the counselors have a full understanding of the Autistry Studios core values and know how to work with our target population – young adults with social, communication and learning difficulties. We are designing a hands-on training program that will provide new instructors and new counselors with experience. Each potential instructor and counselor will work first as an assistant in a workshop to gain a deeper understanding of the communication and social challenges our students face and the strategies that work best to help them overcome those challenges. After successfully finishing a tour as an assistant they can be considered for class leadership positions.
Future programs for Autistry Studios include internship/apprenticeship programs. These important job preparation opportunities will be done in partnership with community businesses and organizations.
We envision the creation of entrepreneurial endeavors that will give our Autistry Studios members the opportunity to work on real world projects. These projects may include commissioned pieces such as architectural models, costumes, filmed public service announcements, etc.