A LARGE wooden jigsaw is being created in Bahrain to mark Autism Awareness Month, which runs throughout April.
People are coming together to paint the 84-piece puzzle, which will be varnished and used as an educational tool for special needs children.
Participants will also leave their mark on a graffiti wall, which has already been started by a group of Bahrain-based artists known as the Dirty Hands Crew.
The activities are taking place at the Bahrain Financial Harbour as part of an initiative by RIA Institute Bahrain, a school that caters to children with special needs.
They were launched yesterday during a ceremony attended by US Ambassador Justin Siberell, whose son Benjamin has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Bahrain-based British author Dr Sarah Clarke, who is spearheading the project, said the jigsaw – measuring 230cm x 120cm – symbolised the fact that all children are different.
“Every child with autism has a different ability, different needs and reacts to the world differently,” Dr Clarke said.
“The reason that we have a jigsaw is that each piece is different.
“Each piece goes together to make something amazing and to spread the message that all autistic children have abilities and they have different needs.”
She also hopes it will promote acceptance of people with autism and special needs.
“Even if I only change one decision maker’s mind and they realise autistic people, and other disabled people, are full members of society and we should include everybody in the things we do and the way we design the environment,” she said.
As many as 200 children are expected to get involved in the five-day community initiative.
There is even a toddler table for younger children, while artists have also set up canvasses on which they will paint.
The activities are taking place on the second floor of the BFH’s Harbour Gate and Mr Siberell said he was impressed by what he saw.
“I think events like this bring the community together and help raise awareness about a condition that affects millions and millions of people around the world,” he said.
“They also show through the artwork that children with ASD have tremendous creative talent and are able to contribute to our society.”
He added the importance of such initiatives to break down barriers and build greater acceptance.
“When my youngest son Benjamin was diagnosed with ASD it changed our lives completely,” said Mr Siberell.
“Trying to understand how we can best help him address his challenges really became all our challenges.
“On one level it has been difficult for us; on the other hand it has opened us to a whole new world of wonderful people working in this area.
“We see now in everyone their own unique innate capabilities and you start to recognise that each of us has their own challenges.
“Our life has been made richer and Benjamin is a blessing to us that has enriched our lives.”
Inspiration for the concept came from the son of RIA Institute student director Christine Gordon.
“When he was three years old he used to drive me crazy and draw on the walls of our flat and my husband would say: ‘Leave it, it’s okay,’” said Ms Gordon.
She explained that she came to accept that he was not just being messy.
“It took a while for me to realise my son is the star of the show and I feel I have won the lottery today,” she added.
“He has a talent that nobody can take away and he is just really happy.”
The activities continue until Thursday, from 9.30am to 11.30am daily, and are open to all.