Palestine Pulse

Gaza’s autistic children master art of origami

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Article Summary
Parents of children with autism in the Gaza Strip have discovered their kids’ hidden talent to fold papers.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Yazen Sami, a 5-year-old child with autism, sat with his eyes set on the flat paper in front of him. He held the paper and started folding it, right then left. It assumed the shape of a bird in his tiny hands. He took another paper and started turning it into a fish, then into other forms.

Yazen took up origami, the art of folding papers, after his parents accidentally discovered his hidden talent. Yazen’s parents believed origami would develop his mental capabilities.

Yazen’s mother, Jamila Ahmad, said, “His sister would do her homework while he sat by her side. Suddenly, he would start acting weird by holding a paper and folding it to form a certain shape — a plane, a ship or other paper forms.”

Origami is a Japanese word. Oru means “to fold” and kami means “paper.” The most beautiful shapes are created using this art.

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Ahmad said, “I took him to his doctor who said this behavior was an innate talent that could enhance his mental capacities and make him smarter. The doctor told me that Yazen could develop this gift in specialized training centers.”

She told Al-Monitor, “Yazen is a smart child whose focus on things is remarkable. He likes to look deeply at architectural forms, and he took up the art out of a personal initiative. He became more peaceful, focused and less aggressive.” Ahmad noted that origami helped Yazen invest the huge energy inside him in other things.

Not all parents of children with autism are aware of the importance of developing their child’s talents, which experts from the Right to Live Society and El-Wedad Society for Community Rehabilitation say can contribute to their treatment.

Wissal al-Karraz is a woman with special needs who has suffered from hearing and vision problems since birth. Yet she is among the most creative origami artists and teaches it to autistic children at El-Wedad Society for Community Rehabilitation in Gaza.

Her father, Bassem al-Karraz, said, “Ever since my daughter enrolled in school, she has been interested in folding papers and turning them into beautiful shapes. Japanese convoys would come to Gaza and stay for a while to check on autistic and special needs’ children in centers. Wissal learned origami skills from Japanese women. Even after they returned home, she remained in touch with them through the internet, mainly Facebook, to develop her skills.” He added that after graduating from the Faculty of Sciences and Society at the Islamic University in Gaza in 2012 with a degree in creative technology, she worked as an autistic children’s coach at the Right to Live Society.

Karraz said that his 25-year-old daughter was always bored before mastering origami and did not know how to fill her free time due to her handicap.

He noted, “When she was 10, she held a paper and formed a shape. She excelled in it and watched YouTube videos. She also learned from Japanese women, and she refined her talents. She now forms amazing architectural shapes and teaches them to children. She often receives offers to make certain shapes for centers and families. She promotes her work on social media.”

Karraz added, “Wissal is now a coach who teaches origami and its practices. She integrates it in calculation and engineering skills as well as 3-D to expose its aesthetic aspect.”

Haitham Hajjaj, a civil engineer and coach at the Qattan Center for the Child, said that origami brings joy and activity to children. He told Al-Monitor, “Since our childhood, we would fold papers to make certain forms, but few people master this art. I kept on practicing it and taught it to my kids. We practice origami together and make all sorts of shapes.”

Hajjaj said, “Kids love the trainings. They come to the center the next day holding the folded papers that they shaped at home enthusiastically.” This enhances their mental capacities said Hajjaj.

Dardah al-Shaer, a psychology and sociology lecturer at Al-Aqsa University, underlined the importance origami can have to helping children with autism. He said, “Special schools must be established to invest in autistic kids’ mental capacities and release the stress inside by creating shapes from paper.”

He noted that there are difficulties that face some autistic children, including trouble with social interaction. He said, “Origami can help children with autism reduce aggressive behavior, which worsens when they sit alone at home without any interaction. Origami is a good way to show the hidden side of their character.”

Shaer indicated that practicing origami is a treatment and an art. Some children even use it to earn a living. He added, “All autistic children can practice origami, whether it is an innate or acquired skill through enrolling in active training centers that specialize in talent development.”

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Found in: gaza strip, facebook, art, japan, children, disability

Tasneem Zayyan is an independent journalist and author from Gaza, focusing on political news, humanitarian and social issues related to current events. 

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