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Painted ceiling tile at Albany Med's Autism Clinic

A painted ceiling tile in Albany Medical Center’s Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

Going to a doctor’s office can be an anxious experience for a child, especially for those with autism, anxiety, ADHD or other developmental disorders. Thanks to Columbia High School art students, that experience has become much more cheerful and colorful.

Students in Columbia’s Cartooning class recently painted 32 ceiling tiles with cartoon characters and inspirational messages. The tiles were then installed at Albany Medical Center’s Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, which includes an Autism Speciality Practice. Now, patients can look up and see Peppa Pig, Winnie the Pooh and SpongeBob SquarePants smiling down at them to help ease their fears.

The project began when Albany Medical Center Nurse Alison Johnson, who at one time worked in the East Greenbush CSD, reached out to her friend Columbia Art Teacher Patti LeRoy, after hearing about a similar project at a hospital in New Jersey.

“My students were excited to be involved in this project and be of service to others, contributing their talents for the greater good,” Mrs. LeRoy said. “By recreating some favorite children’s characters from books, TV and movies, their hope is to alleviate fears and provide comfort to the children at Albany Medical Center’s Autism Unit. Art is healing.”

The students visited the clinic on Friday morning to see the dozens of decorative ceiling tiles hanging throughout the hallways, exam rooms and sensory room and learn about the positive impact of their artwork.

“My patients can sometimes be scared or reluctant to come to the doctor’s office,” said Dr. Carrin Schottler-Thal, director of the Autism Clinic. “These paintings have brought cheer and instantly calmed them as they settle into their appointment.”

During the visit, Dr. Schottler-Thal told the students how a 4-year-old boy who was just learning how to speak, was at an appointment recently, looked up and saw the painting of Pete the Cat. The boy blurted out “Cat” to the amazement of everyone.

Students were eager to find their artwork at the clinic and see it on display. 

Jack Murphy ’25, who is interested in animation, painted an original character on his ceiling tile.

“Cartoons helped me as a kid and put a smile on my face,” said Mr. Murphy. “And I want to do the same for children in future generations.”

 

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