Noah Williams is changing the way people look at him with every stroke of paint across canvas.
Noah, 8, is differently-abled. He was born a 26-week micro preemie and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture. General signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy, also known as CP, include impaired movement associated with abnormal reflexes, floppiness or rigidity of the limbs and trunk, abnormal posture and involuntary movements.
Yet, ever since attending camp at The Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art in 2017, Noah has discovered a new ability: art.
“We refuse to let that (cerebral palsy) define how we were going to live. I said, ‘OK, this is what we got. Let’s go with it.’ I wanted him to have a typical experience. I wanted him to have the same opportunities as his peers. That meant we had to think outside the box. He’ll never do if he never tries,” said Noah’s mother, Naomi Williams.
Gertrude Herbert is not a special needs camp; however, it adapted and modified its curriculum so Noah could participate. A camp project let the young students paint a flag representing their nationality. Noah’s was distinctly unique, prompting one of the students to declare that the flag stood for “Noahland.”
We are excited to see how Noah uses this non-verbal way to express himself and challenge himself to keep going.
— Dr. Yong Park
Thus, Noahland Art was born. In Noahland, those who are differently-abled are embraced for their uniqueness.
“Yes, he’s different but he’s not less,” Naomi said. “You get stares, you get questions. But, he’s not less. I’m raising him to be a part of society, to be as independent as possible. That doesn’t change because he’s differently-abled.”
Noah’s pediatric neurologist, Dr. Yong D. Park, said others should not judge those who are differently-abled because “you never know the potential a child has or will have.”
“We are excited to see how Noah uses this non-verbal way to express himself and challenge himself to keep going,” said Park.
Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art instructor Nicola Brown said people may react negatively to differently-abled people because of fear and lack of knowledge.
“When that barrier comes down we can see each other as worthwhile and important, and the next time we meet someone who is different we have a stronger depth of knowledge to deal with the differences. Having Noah in my classes has benefited him, the other students. The subtle moments, the connection, love and understanding is immeasurable. Noah has become stronger in his ability to choose the art he makes rather than being just an unwilling participant. Any time communication between people develops and grows, everyone is a winner,” said Brown.
Having his art featured in a place where we spend so much time, that’s success. We’re redefining success.
— Naomi Williams
Seven paintings by Noah are on display on the second floor of the Children’s Hospital of Georgia through the month of March. March is national Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month, and March 25 is national Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day.
“Having his art featured in a place where we spend so much time, that’s success,” said Naomi. “We’re redefining success. There’s still good regardless of the complications. Parents need to know that. We grieve the milestones that he doesn’t reach, but celebrate the inchstones.”