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The Healing Power of Art

CHAP program gives young artists the tools they need to be creative

Child life specialists at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Portland are focused on reducing the stresses associated with staying in the hospital and teaching patients coping skills through opportunities to play, learn and interact with others in an emotionally and socially safe environment. To help accomplish these goals, the Portland Shriners Hospitals’ child life specialists began working with Children’s Healing Art Project (CHAP) in 2018.

Connor creates a finger-painting using special materials.

CHAP is a Portland-based organization that brings the healing power of art to children and families facing medical challenges. Once a week, volunteers from CHAP visit our patients, bringing unique supplies and materials to spark creativity and allow patients to express themselves.

“CHAP is able to modify the activities and tools to fit the ability of each patient,” said Susan Gallegos, child life specialist at the Portland Shriners Hospital. “They have specific paintbrushes to use with patients who have limited mobility in their hands and arms. Or, if a child is experiencing sensory issues, CHAP is able to modify activities to ensure the child is comfortable participating.”

Connor’s painting

For example, Connor, a patient undergoing halo traction treatment at the hospital, is very uncomfortable with substances on his hands. When CHAP representatives proposed the idea of finger-painting, they realized they needed to make some adjustments for Connor. By wrapping a plastic covering over the paper and paint, Connor was able to participate in the activity and push and move the paint through the plastic until he was happy with his creation, without discomfort.

Another patient, Carleigh, who also under-went halo traction, sculpted a replica of Max (the dog in the Dr. Seuss story How the Grinch Stole Christmas) during a CHAP session. Carleigh has had a stuffed toy Max since she was born, which inspired her choice. She had a great time in the art session. “The activities that CHAP offers to our patients are like mental medicine,” said Cindy Mil-lard, child life specialist at the Portland Shriners Hospital. “It distracts them from being in the hospital and helps them heal through play.”