I adore Lee Ann Thill for her snarky sense of humor, and not just because we share the same namesake. (And let me tell you, we are often on conference calls together and it gets confusing!)
I actually met Lee Ann for a brief minute at BlogHer 2009. I can’t remember which session we were in, maybe it was one about healthcare, but I remember seeing her insulin pump clipped on her waistband and like a total dork I walked up and introduced myself. (I don’t know if she remembers that or not.)
Perhaps you don’t know much about Lee Ann because she’s a PWD and not a parent of a T1 kiddo. But what is so incredible is that she works as an art therapist…how cool is that?! She recently led a session at CWD Friends For Life creating diabetes art with children and grown ups.
Lee Ann founded Diabetes Art Day last year and the response was incredible. D-Art Day is every year on September 1st and you still have time to get creative with your children. I asked Lee Ann to share some tips with us on how to get started.
Guest Post by Lee Ann Thill
Diabetes Art Day is a web-based initiative for people with diabetes and their families to share art that tells a story about diabetes. We know all the negative ways that diabetes affects our families, but making the best and living well with diabetes means finding and running with the opportunities to create a positive family experience. I know there aren’t enough positive experiences in the world to negate the frustration and fear that come with diabetes, but every chance to have fun with diabetes makes living with it just a little more tolerable. Many families do this by participating in fundraising events for diabetes charities or local support groups, although the availability depends on where you live. Diabetes Art Day provides another chance to build a uniquely positive experience around diabetes for your entire family, and it’s available to all.
I encourage everyone in the family to make art together for Diabetes Art Day. Clear a table, lay out some art materials (drawing supplies, paint, collage materials, diabetes supplies, anything that feels like it would be fun), and get to work as a family the same as you’d gather around a table for a holiday meal. Family art-making is a special time to build memories and connect. Art is an empowering language for children because it’s a language they speak fluently. The younger the child, the less they will have the exact words to describe how they feel about something, but through art, they can express anything. Play with the art materials, tell your story using the art materials just like children do, speak the language of art with them.
Once your art is created, it’s time to share it online. On most days, the DOC is the domain of grown-ups, a place where parents of children and type 1 and adults living with diabetes can share and connect, a sanity-saving place to unload some of the emotional baggage that diabetes brings. Without taking away from this important function of the DOC, Diabetes Art Day provides a chance for parents to give their children a glimpse at this valuable resource on a day when much of the content will be interesting and age-appropriate for them. Seeing that they’re part of the larger diabetes community will be a reminder that they aren’t alone with this disease, and it’s a chance for them to feel connected to others the way we feel connected every time we post of Facebook, tweet, read a blog, leave a comment, or participate on a message board.
I encourage parents to look at the art online with their children. Ask them what they like, what they dislike, what the art reminds them of, how it makes them feel, if they recognize something in someone else’s art that connects to their own experience with diabetes. Create a dialogue, sharing with them which art you like, what it reminds you of, and how it makes you feel. Needless to say, keep the conversation on their level, and stay attuned to what they might need–reassurance, understanding, affirmation–and when they’re ready to stop talking about it. The length and depth of the conversation will vary depending on children’s ages and personalities, but even a short dialogue is an invitation for dialogue in the future.
Most of all though, make it fun, and create a playful atmosphere. Talk as much as they want to talk about it. Some children might not want to talk much at all, and that’s OK too. After all, the point of making the art is to tell a story about diabetes, so the art might say everything that needs to be said. Lastly, diabetes can be an ugly disease, and if the art tells a story that captures that feeling or experience, then it’s still beautiful.
Updated to add: You don’t have to have your own blog to create and share your artwork. Lee Ann has made it easy on the Diabetes Art Day website to upload your creation and share it with the world. Visit the official website and click on the “Participate” tab. There is already 2011 artwork up!
Lee Ann’s blog The Butter Compartment
Diabetes Art Day official site
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