Photo contributed Above: Leifen Mitchell-Banks at work on one of his creations during a class at Salmon Arm Secondary.

Drawings connect autistic student with the world

Leifen Mitchell-Banks creates colourful cartoon characters at Salmon Arm Secondary.

The winter sky may be dull and grey, but inside Salmon Arm Secondary, a colourful display of “paper people” brightens one of the hallways.

Many of them are life-sized and all feature large, black eyes, with long, dangling arms and barely discernible penciled smiles. Most of them have their feet turned outwards.

They are the work of Leifen Mitchell-Banks, a 19-year-old student who is on the autistic spectrum. And, while he does not communicate in the same way as the majority of people, his art speaks volumes.

Mitchell-Banks is extremely bright and gregarious.

He is described by his team, art teacher Chris Schielke and education assistants (EAs) Karen Beggs and Debbie Parke as being “differently abled.”

Unburdened by the notion of peer pressure, if he hears music he likes, he will stop what he is doing and dance, says Parke, who has worked with Mitchell-Banks for four years.

“He’s got a love of life, a joy,” adds Beggs. “And this school is so accepting.”

Schielke agrees and says the kids in the art room are not only welcoming, they love it when he’s there because he’s so animated.

The talented and prolific artist began drawing at the age of eight or nine when he attended Carlin School.

“Drawing opened the door for communication,” says Parke, pointing out initially his EA drew the characters according to Mitchell-Banks’ very specific directions about the size and expression of his characters. “He was learning to use thoughts and words.”

In time, his EA stopped drawing and encouraged the initially resistant artist to advance from colouring the creations to drawing them himself.

That led to the emergence of his own Sesame Street and a growing population of cartoon characters.

“These are his friends, they are personal and he doesn’t like to give them away,” laughs Schielke, who was touched to have been gifted with a giant drawing of Jafar recently. “There is so much going on in his brain; it is so complex.”

Mitchell-Banks colours his drawings without worrying about the lines, then expertly cuts them out.

His favourite medium is pastels and he trades one piece of art a week in exchange for a trip to Salmon Arm Stationery to purchase more colours.

He is grasping the notion of trading his “friends” for monetary gains in order to acquire other things he wants.

Other SAS students are impressed with Mitchell-Banks’ colourful people, including Nick Lourens, who created a 3-D version of a pirate character using the school’s new printer.

This delighted Mitchell-Banks, who has begun painting them.

“Now he’s decided he wants some action figures that move,” laughs Beggs, noting students are now trying to create them as well.

Mitchell-Banks is developing literacy skills, is interested in reading and can now go to the computer and find characters on his own, says Beggs.

“He’s liking words now and can read simple sentences,” she says. “That empowers him so he can learn what he wants. He’s a very curious person.”

Michell-Banks is in the school’s Individual Achievement Program (IAP) with support from his team that focuses on his interests.

Learning resource teacher Eberle Balfour says she was “blown away” when she arrived at SAS and discovered IAP students receive individual support and that an attitude of inclusivity permeates the entire school.

“At Leifen’s house there is no computer so he creates most of his art there,” says Parke of his prolific “friends,” many of whom have been brought to school. “His art has grown so much because he explores his creativity.”

Eberle agrees, noting that the team is now focusing on Mitchell-Banks’ career and trying to find ways for him to benefit financially from his art.

Mitchell-Banks works part time at No Frills and is expected to graduate this year. He will pursue his career goals with a new community team to provide support.

Just Posted

CSRD applies for funding for a composting program at Revelstoke Landfill

BC Organics Infrastructure Program is taking applications for a maximum of $300,000

PHOTO GALLERY: Timber Days takes over Centennial Park

Revelstoke Timber Days has come and gone. The logger sports competition took… Continue reading

Roads and weather in Revelstoke today

Scheduled construction: Highway 1 east: Bridge maintenance between Skunk Cabbage Boardwalk and… Continue reading

Cost jumps 35% for Trans-Canada Highway widening in B.C.

Revelstoke-area stretch first awarded under new union deal

WildsafeBC comes to the Okanagan to reduce wildlife conflict

Bear activity on the Westside has been an issue in the past few weeks

Killer of Calgary mother, daughter gets no parole for 50 years

A jury found Edward Downey guilty last year in the deaths of Sara Baillie, 34, and five-year-old Taliyah Marsman

RCMP probe if teen was intentionally hit with ski pole by mystery skier on B.C. mountain

The incident happened on March 20 on Grouse Mountain. Police are urging witnesses to come forward

VegFest drops Okanagan Ice Pops as sponsor

Controversy stirs over a bacon-chocolate flavoured popsicle

Roadside device to weed out THC can’t detect impairment, B.C. lawyer says

‘This fact alone is likely to have serious implications for Canadians’ Charter Rights,’ lawyer Sarah Leamon warns

Sentencing for Okanagan man who sent Christmas card to shooting victim

A South Okanagan dangerous offender tacked on another nine months of prison time

Okanagan company wins contract for Kitimat LNG project

SK Form & Finish will work with equivalent of 4,000 fully loaded concrete trucks

VIDEO: Fire damaged Salmon Arm 7-Eleven demolished

7-Eleven representative says company interested opening elsewhere in Salmon Arm

Bizarre incident in Okanagan alley leads to arrest of Calgary man

A man was witnessed jumping on a car ‘acting like an ape’

Most British Columbians agree the ‘big one’ is coming, but only 50% are prepared

Only 46 per cent of British Columbians have prepared an emergency kit with supplies they might need

Most Read