Imagine That

The hero of Kevin’s story knows he’s different. Kevin draws the images for each panel and writes the dialogue, and at one point the hero says: “I feel like a freak.” But he’s not a freak. He’s just different. In Kevin’s story, it turns out that the hero has super powers. Because he’s different, he can change the world.

Kevin is telling this story in a short film he’s making at Imagine That!, a creative arts program for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Kansas City, Missouri. When his hero embraces his powers, he starts calling himself “The Shocking Shockwave.”

“The thing I want to do is make a difference,” Kevin said, as he worked. “I want to put my ideas out there and see how people like it.”

Imagine That! has made a big difference with Kevin.

“This is a good atmosphere where you can be yourself, express how you feel, and share ideas,” Kevin said.

“In my history of working with people with disabilities, I’ve never encountered anyone like Kevin,” Imagine That! Director Amy Norman said. “The internal struggles he faces, hearing voices that tell him to do things that he really struggles with, it’s like an angel and a devil on his shoulders. If you tell him he’s doing a good job with something, he will feel the need to balance that with something negative. He would self injure, or have so much anxiety that he’d freeze, just be frozen against a wall. He’d do some pretty inappropriate things in public.

“Since he’s been here, Kevin has worked very hard to overcome his challenges — particularly since he’s received residential services through RHD as well. When we first started working with Kevin, those negative behaviors were a ritual with him, but we’ve gotten to a point where they are almost non-existent.”

Imagine That! is an innovative creative arts studio for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities that provides individuals who participate with the tools and materials to create art and the supports to define themselves as artists within the studio and in the community. The studio is an example of RHD’s person-centered services that focus on the individual and their strengths, allowing for maximum choice and empowerment.

“We take pride in being a place where everybody can come and be accepted for who they are,” Norman said. “We recognize that everybody has a choice to come here – even our staff. We respect that. It’s a naturally collaborative environment. We support our artists and, in a variety of ways, our artists support the staff just as much. We all have a lot to learn from each other.”

Person-Centered at ITKC!

JP, a client at RHD’s Imagine That! art studio for people with intellectual disabilities, struggled to communicate until Imagine That! staff used person-centered thinking to learn his language. It’s an example of how RHD programs emphasize the person in the service, respecting and responding to a person’s needs.

The studio’s artists are supported by a team of trained artists who strive to integrate the studio into the larger arts community. Artists are encouraged to express themselves through a variety of artistic mediums and are given the opportunity to display and sell their art. Every First Friday of the month, the studio opens its door to showcase its artists to the public, and the place is usually packed.

What people find is a broad array of artists who are uniquely successful.

“Since starting at RHD I feel as though there is more meaning to my life,” said Joe, a client who experiences constant life struggles due to a rare disorder he’s managing with support from his staff. “I don’t know what I would do without RHD.”

Troy writes music and performs in a band, The Six Shooters. They recently landed their first paying gig.

“We only have one rule — no covers, because that just turns into a karaoke show,” Norman said. “You have to write your own music, which forces people to be creative. Troy writes his own music, expressed out of personal struggles. He’s in one of our bands here, and they just got a paying gig — which he was so excited about.”

Troy’s mother, Lucy, said Troy’s visits to his therapist have significantly decreased since attending Imagine That!, and noted he’s developed such strong friendships, he feels he is a part of a community there.

“Troy was experiencing serious depression, which manifested in the form of anger,” Lucy said. “He would get mad over the littlest things and blow up into a shouting match on a daily basis. Since Troy began attending RHD, he looks forward to getting up in the morning — especially on days he goes to the studio. When Troy comes home from Imagine That!, he’s in a good mood, and he enjoys telling me about his day.

“I am so thankful for the time he is able to spend there. RHD is his kind of place.”

Greg was the first person approved for funding to attend Imagine That! and was one of the first artists to attend the studio when it opened in 2012.

“I was working in a workshop, and I got tired of not being heard,” Greg said. “I wanted to try something different. I never knew I had talent until I came here; then I found the gift that I did have. When I’m here, I feel like a person, not a person with a disability. I love my life now!”

In addition to movies, Kevin writes poetry and music. The Imagine That! staff’s favorite piece that Kevin has done is titled “For the Fight,” where Kevin’s voice is backed by music written with ITKC! staff:

For the fight, you will learn when to believe and conquer it, with all the power you never knew you had
For the fight of your life, you will pick the path of right and wrong, to discover who you are …