Powerhouse: Empowering Children With Autism

Jun. 5, 2012 / By

Cover Photo: Kurtz and a student painting in 2008, fom an article published 2008 by the Signal Tribune. Photo: Cory Bilicko
Editor’s Note: This story was reported as part of the CSULB Journalism Senior Seminar.  It is one of a series of articles produced by CSULB students, focusing on health issues in different parts of Long Beach, that will appear in Voicewaves over the coming weeks. 

LONG BEACH — “I used to be so mean,” said Doug Kurtz as he walked his bike up the steps of the city-hall parking structure after a meeting in the council chambers.

The former punk-rocker turned street-artist and art-educator has found balance as an adult, and is working on helping children with autism and Asperger’s syndrome treat their condition the same way he balanced out his own life: Through art.

Having worked with the Long Beach School District for 20 years, Kurtz puts enough credence in his theoretical approach to the treatment of autism-spectrum illnesses, that he’s starting an art school for children with autism and Asperger’s syndrome.

The project, which Kurtz and his supporters have named, “The Powerhouse,” is a school of music, art, and dance for children with autism and Asperger’s syndrome.
“I’ve gotten to see these kids come out and paint on the murals, and they make breakthroughs,” Kurtz said. “It’s about them being recognized for contributing something beautiful to the community, and building a rapport with the outside world.”

Autism spectrum illnesses are pervasive developmental disorders usually characterized by deficiencies in communication for a variety of reasons. In short this means that autistic children tend to have problems communicating with, and hence relating to, people and situations.

Kurtz says that even brief periods of art therapy, are easily capable of allowing students with moderate and severe cases of autism to connect in unprecedented ways with their surroundings. By circumventing the more common modes of communication like complex speech, Kurtz has managed to break through to autistic children through ancient meditation techniques, mural painting, music lessons, and dance workshops.“This stuff also brings them a lot of joy,” Kurtz added, “where most traditional therapies for autism are based on repetition, and are kind of demeaning.”

Miss Sarah McGovern, a friend of Kurtz’ and a program manager at the Foundation for Free Education, believes that the art-therapy Kurtz gives is much more exciting than a band-aid type temporary solution. “These students are undergoing neurological processes that are being stimulated by the activities they’re doing,” McGovern said. “It’s an area of interdisciplinary education that has a lot of potential for research.”

The Powerhouse received it’s non-profit status this week, and Kurtz is still busy trying to hammer out an exact location for where the school will be.


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Patrick Moreno

Patrick Moreno is a graduate of the CSULB department of journalism. He wrote for the Daily 49er and spent more than a year with VoiceWaves reporting on the diverse communities of Long Beach. Originally from Ventura California, Moreno studied photography for 5 years before transferring to CSULB to work on his writing. At the heart of his work is Moreno's love for culture and the arts, but it is through factual and fair reporting that he hopes to transform his community into a place where people can express themselves and continue to thrive. Patrick is also a musician, artist and photographer, beach bum, and capoerista!