Boy with artwork.

Artistic inspiration

Local children add smiles to Art for Autism program crafts.

“I’m coloring this turtle!” cries Carter Longenecker, focusing intently on decorating his paper turtle. Carter can’t wait to bring his new two-dimensional pet, dubbed “Clackaturtle,” home with him.

On Friday Sept. 12, Carter was one of a handful of kids, all of them clients at MU’s Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, who created a colorful bale of turtles in one of a series of three art-based activities called Art for Autism.

Tapping Into Creativity
Boy drawing with adults.

Carter Longenecker, 5, gets a little tracing help from his mom, Amy, and volunteer Tyler Brandt, a junior communications major at MU.

Led by volunteer instructors from local arts instruction center Access Arts, children ages 5 to 18 put their creative energy into projects using clay, paint and paper to complete works of art that families can take home to enjoy or donate back to the program for a special fundraising auction during the holiday season.

Colleen Smith, an MFA student in painting in the MU Department of Art and former Peace Corps fellow at Access Arts, designed Friday’s activity to combine repetitions of simple shapes and a little creative license into colorful turtles for the 5- to 10-year-old group. She developed a more complicated peacock project for the 11- to 18-year-olds.

“They’ll have their own pattern, and they can personalize it with color,” says Smith, who had the help of junior communications major Tyler Brandt and several Thompson Center staff to give the children more individualized attention.

Seven-year-old Fumiya Matsui added a broad red smile to the face of his turtle, an indicator of how far he’s come in treatment for his autism spectrum disorder, his father says.

“One and a half years ago, he only drew circles and dots. He couldn’t do a face,” says Fumihiro Matsui. “He has confidence to draw something now. Art is his favorite subject in school.”

Exploring Multiple Media
Child painting with watercolors.

Fumiya Matsui, 7, makes a point to add a broad red smile to his turtle artwork.

In addition to completing the painting project, the children are creating and decorating clay pieces with local ceramics artist and musician Joel Watson during the other two sessions.

Access Arts has partnered with the Thompson Center to host the Art for Autism program as part of its mission to offer creative learning experiences for everyone.

“We saw it as a way to facilitate our mission and serve those families affected by neurodevelopmental disorders in a unique way,” says Shawna Johnson, executive director of Access Arts. “Art is what brings all types of people together. It has been a wonderful experience for my staff and I to have these children in our studios.”

Participating families can donate their masterpieces to the Thompson Center. Some of these pieces will be on display at the center’s annual Autism Conference in Jefferson City Oct. 6-7. Later in the year, select pieces also will be exhibited at the PS:Gallery downtown as well as at other locations and occasions, including an evening reception fundraiser, which will include art donated by local artists.

For more information on these events, the Autism Conference and our services, visit

Subscribe to

Show Me Mizzou

Stay up-to-date with the latest news by subscribing to the Show Me Mizzou newsletter.