Exploring Autism: Handcrafted Art Made by Very Special Hands
It’s almost mesmerizing to watch the young woman’s skillful fingers as they carefully manipulate the thin wire into one-of-a-kind art. The scene is relaxed and movements deliberate as the material is gently shaped using small, colorful pliers.
Diagnosed with autism at age three with minimal social and language skills, 22-year-old Siri Chettipally discovered her talent for creating beautiful jewelry only one year ago. From delicate glass and crystal to lovely pearl and terracotta pieces, Siri has found rewarding ways to express herself through her handmade jewelry.
Her shop, which can be found online, also features special collections for kids and mothers as well as unique fashion pieces. Her work has been purchased by many well-known actresses and singers at special events held in California.
Siri’s project, called Designs by Siri, is supported by De Colores Arts, a non-profit organization in California that helps people with disabilities develop and exhibit their artistic abilities. Her mother, Swathi Chetipally, credits Irma Velasquez of De Colores Arts, for providing great encouragement for Siri including ideas and connections to promote Siri’s work as well as studio space. “Irma is an advocate for special needs children who have artistic talents.
When we first approached her with this idea, she enthusiastically supported it,” Swathi said.
Swathi lovingly describes her daughter as a young woman trapped in a body that can take in all the sounds, sights and sensations, amplified many times over what other people feel, but unable to express them in words or actions.
“Although she falls in the middle of the autism spectrum with minimal social and language skills, she enjoys being out and about. She loves going to the mall, eating out, traveling and going to the movies,” Swathi said. “Most of her autistic behaviors are evident when she is frustrated, sick or when she is unable to communicate.”
Swathi said she first discovered Siri’s affection for jewelry-making last year when she was finished with school and in search of a day program. “I explored a few things with her. Jewelry was one of them. She immediately took a liking to it. We could not find a good day program that would fit her needs for six months. This gave her enough time to develop these skills,” Swathi said.
Creating jewelry seemed like a natural choice for a young woman like Siri as she loves to shop for jewelry and clothes —and whose hobbies include performing the Bollywood dance. “Siri is into girly things, clothes, jewelry, costumes, dolls, etc., all the things that preteen girls like,” Swathi said. “We knew that Siri has a good sense of color, the way she dresses and matches her outfits. We also knew that she can be very good with her fine motor skills.”
While Siri is not at a stage where she can come up with her own designs Swathi said Siri picks the materials and the colors and is given choices to guide her in formulating the design. “She is the final decision maker. If she does not like a design, she will not make it,” Swathi said. Currently, Siri is focusing on making earrings, necklaces, anklets and bracelets. Eventually she wants to expand her line into other wearable accessories.
Swathi said she believes Siri’s new passion has helped her grow and it’s something she plans to continue long-term.
“[Siri] loves making jewelry, wearing it and showing it to people. She feels very proud when people thank her or appreciate her. She has gained a lot of confidence in herself. Now, when we have a display of her work at events, she loves to meet the people that come to the booth,” Swathi said.
Sometimes, she added, while the jewelry has sold well at various events and has been well-received by friends and family, they are not always able to keep up with Siri’s need for work.
The success experienced so far has definitely provided Siri with a boost in self-confidence. “A few months ago, we were at a conference in Anaheim where Siri had a booth displaying her jewelry. She was fine standing there interacting with people with her limited vocabulary. We have never seen this part of her personality before,” Swathi said. Siri was also recently featured in a local news report regarding a new autism initiative.
Swathi said she is so proud of her daughter and feels very fortunate when she watches her create. “Siri is a beautiful and an intelligent young woman. She is blessed with great qualities like patience and an eagerness to learn,” she said.
Mom is also thrilled her daughter has become an inspiration to other young people on the spectrum. “Many folks have contacted us. We want to help them. That is our main goal in working with De Colores Arts. We want other parents to know that there are possibilities that their children with special needs can explore.”
“I want Siri to have a happy, safe and productive future. And want to see her work getting the credit it deserves,” Swathi said. “I want her to be a role model for other individuals with disability to achieve success in their lives.”
For additional information: http://www.designsbysiri.com
This article was featured in Issue 41 – Back-To-School Transitions