An adventure waiting to be painted

To some, a paintbrush is merely a tool used to transfer paint from palette to canvas. To others, like Iowa State design professor Deb Satterfield, a paintbrush is akin to a microphone -- giving those who hold it a clear voice where there may not have been one before. After all, it was a paintbrush that helped Satterfield’s autistic son John find a way to finally express himself. And it was, in effect, that same paintbrush that has helped her lead students and faculty to new heights in autism research and outreach.

Satterfield first realized the power of painting a few years ago when John came home from school with a list of project suggestions. Out of all of them, she thought he might enjoy painting the most. What she didn’t realize was that art would allow John to express himself in ways he’d previously never been able to. “It was eye opening to me. I had never even thought to give him a chance. When I look at these paintings, I see John’s voice,” Satterfield said.

It also made her think, who else could benefit from a creative outlet? And with that question, Satterfield found her calling – using art to improve the lives of children with cognitive disabilities and autism. Soon, she was working with a team of faculty and students to design educational, social inclusion, and play experiences for these children. And now her team’s research is changing the lives of these kids and their family members, whose eyes light up when they see what their loved ones are truly capable of. “Everybody deserves the opportunity to express themselves,” said Satterfield.

At Iowa State, our professors are expressing themselves through their research in everything from art therapy to eyewitness identification. It’s how these adventurous minds are doing their part to paint a brighter picture for the students they teach and individuals all around the world.