Art & Autism – Meet “Artism”: a Student-Owned Business

two autistic students posing with a 3D printer in their school's Makerspace

Seeded with support from the Child Health Association of Sewickley, what started as an idea for a senior project blossomed into a full-blown student-owned and operated business. Meet “Artism”, the brainchild of Lucius and Hunter, two senior high school students in the Watson Institute’s Social Center for Academic Achievement (WISCA) program!

The WISCA program provides therapeutic and academic support for autistic students through a highly individualized approach in a classroom setting. Students benefit from the creative and flexible environment that WISCA offers, ensuring that they can explore areas of interest and expand on their skills.

The addition of Makerspaces at WISCA has provided a creative outlet for students to explore possible career interests using tools, materials, and technologies beyond those found in a typical classroom setting.

When the Sharpsburg WISCA program added a 3D printer to their Makerspace, Lucius and Hunter were thrilled. “I was cheesed! Like a kid in a candy store!” said Lucius.

The 3D printer soon became the focal point for their senior project and thus, Artism was born! Artism, a combination of “art” and “autism”, centers around custom-made 3D-printed items and artwork.

autistic student working with 3D printer on artism project

Over a series of weeks and months, Lucius taught himself and Hunter how to use the 3D printer and learned various software programs that allow them to use pre-made designs as well as custom designs that could be transmitted to the machine for production.

As the students considered the potential business opportunity their new interest could become, Lucius took the lead, creating a detailed business plan that included a cost-benefit analysis and how it could be turned into a profitable enterprise. Lucius and Hunter presented the plan to Watson’s Chief Operating Officer, WISCA Program Director, and a WISCA Program Supervisor who were all suitably impressed by the level of detail and foresight the students had put into their analysis.

It was their detailed planning that also helped the Watson Institute secure grant funding from The Phillips Charitable Foundation. The Phillips Foundation’s support enabled the program to purchase a brand-new 3D printer and other machines, technologies, and materials to outfit the WISCA Makerspaces.

Learning Life & Vocational Skills

The formation and operation of Artism has taught Lucius and Hunter many valuable skills as they navigate the challenges of working with technology and adapting to changes in the market.

Patience is a necessity when working in 3D printing since the designs don’t always come out the way you expect them to, even if the design itself is sound. Through trial and error, Lucius and Hunter have learned how to prepare print files and set up the machine to help their projects run as smoothly as possible.

When Artism began, they were making items such as character figurines for their peers. As interest has grown and word of their talents spread, Lucius and Hunter have expanded their orders to provide fun and practical items for teachers in the Sharpsburg school building, including those in Watson’s LEAP Preschool program!

A LEAP teacher placed a custom order for a set of 3D printed alphabet letters which will be used to help preschoolers trace and outline their letters as they are learning ABCs and writing skills. Another teacher requested transparent visual markers for their classroom’s daily schedule to help students visualize the day’s activities.

As Lucius and Hunter approach graduation age, they’ve begun making preparations for Artism to live on in their younger peers. They’ve been mentoring other students, teaching them how the 3D printers work, training them in the software programs, and helping them understand how all of it works together so they can keep Artism alive at the Watson Institute for years to come.

Artism has provided the students with many educational and vocational opportunities, but it’s also allowed them to explore potential career interests. Both Lucius and Hunter expressed that they want to work with technology when they graduate and hope to continue working on 3D-printed projects.

Learn how the WISCA program for autistic students offers a flexible environment in which students can learn and grow in ways that suit their individualized needs.