Design / Fashion / Lifestyle / Social Responsibility

Designers At The Helm Of Social Initiatives


It was about 20 years ago when the Rain Man movie came out starring Dustin Hoffman as an autistic person. I admit, I had not heard too much about the autism spectrum disorder prior to the movie, but it certainly widened my knowledge about autism. In general, people with autism syndrome are very talented and have excellent skills in a given field, although the average person will probably not realize it at first glance, because the social interaction of autistic persons is different as what we are generally accustomed to.

“I’m a visual thinker, really bad at algebra. There are others that are pattern thinkers. These are the music and math minds. They think in patterns instead of pictures. Then there’s another type that’s not a visual thinker at all, and they’re the ones that memorize all of the sports statistics, all of the weather statistics.” – Temple Grandin.

There are a few foundations that actively support projects aiming to improve the lives of autistic people with special talents and thanks to this engagement a lot of autistic specialists have been discovered and are now being promoted. In Miskolc, located in north Hungary, there is a residential home for affected persons with autistic spectrum disorder, where these individuals are given the chance to live and work in an environment that nurtures and fosters their special skills and respects their needs. One of these programs is MAACRAFT operated by the Miskloc Autism Foundation and in addition to providing catering and medical services as well as representing their interests, it also offers development and employment opportunities for participants.

“I think that autistic brains tend to be specialized brains. Autistic people tend to be less social. It takes a ton of processor space in the brain to have all the social circuits.” – Temple Grandin.

MAACRAFT’s social employment program was brought to life in 2012 by three designers Eszter Nagymáté, Rita Szabados and Dániel Szalkai. Under the supervision, guidance and lead of the three designers autistic residents with excellent manual and visual skills create lovely handcrafted objects such as household storage cases, seats, baskets, etc. made of natural or recycled components. In this case task of the designers differs from that of a regular design studio as their function is to let talented autistic craftsmen exploit their visual and creative potentials and if should they need support with certain decisions or social interaction, designers are there to guide them.

The other initiative,  Autisitic Art art therapy program, has already become a brand name on its own. Under the Autistic Art label we will find wonderfully colorful and patterned silk scarves with designs and motives created by autistic artists. This project is managed by Hajnalka Tarr art conductor who can count on the advice and support of other design and branding professionals. Her goal was to create a brand with high-quality products, where the importance lays on the quality of the product and not necessarily only on the special circumstances of the artists. Autistic Art is also the flagship initiative to promote original artworks of artists with autism via art exhibitions and auctions.

Proceeds from all sales go to cover the costs of residential homes and the maintenance of creative ateliers. Although monetary aspects are important to be able to maintain such facilities on the long term, acknowledgement and success are much more significant to the artists as positive experiences motivate them even more during their creative and artistic development.

The nature of above-mentioned programs has a first mover character in Hungary and it will hopefully encourage others, too, to think outside of the box. As creativity does not end with designing a nice object but it can also be a start to open our minds and to find new ways to bundle individual potentials – including the potential of those in need for special care and guidance.

“Who do you think made the first stone spears? The Asperger guy. If you were to get rid of all the autism genetics, there would be no more Silicon Valley.” – Temple Grandin.

For more information about the mission of the programs please visit the websites of Autistic Art and MAACRAFT. Handcrafted MAACRAFT products can be purchased online at Stilshop. Further information about the Miskolc Autism Foundation and its scope of activities can be found here. For regular updates please join MAACRAFT’s Facebook community.

Source of images: courtesy of MAACRAFT and Autistic Art. Photos: Istvan Kiss Tanne.



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