How the power of art helps one autistic student express himself


Darius Kwok, from ESF Jockey Club Sarah Roe School, has used painting and drawing to communicate since he was a small child

Rhea Mogul |

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Darius, who has been painting since he was around six years old, particularly enjoys creating scenes from nature.

The walls inside the Hong Kong Fringe Club are bursting with colour: vivid paintings of wild animals, landscapes, trains and helicopters are scattered around the room. A small crowd stands gathered around the artwork, admiring the bright red and blue tones. But in one corner, a burly young man sits with his headphones plugged in, seemingly unaffected by the buzz surrounding him.

Darius Kwok, 18, has been drawing since he was a child. For most of his life, the illustrations that trickle from his paintbrush have been his prime means of expression.

Darius was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder as a young child, and has studied at the ESF Jockey Club Sarah Roe School since he was seven years old.

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Darius’s use of language is limited: he speaks in short sentences, and uses visual prompts to aid his communication. 

But his attention to detail is much sharper than the average person. Where we would see a pile of toys, he will give you the exact number, and break them down by colour, shape, and size. 

On June 14, with the help of his teachers and family, Darius held his first art exhibition, titled My Art Journey. 

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“[My biggest challenge was] planning for the exhibition,” says Darius.

Darius’ father has been nurturing his talent since he was a young boy, and has been saving his artwork ever since.

“I exposed Darius to art when he was about six years old,” says his father, Simon Kwok Tung-keung. “He started drawing and colouring with crayons, and then moved to watercolours and acrylic paint.”

The exhibition shows Darius’ evolution as an artist. In one section, drawings of helicopters and trains – inspired by illustrations in children’s story books – show us where he started. In another section, impressive painting techniques such as pour painting, and blending and contrasting show his artistic growth and impeccable attention to detail. 

Darius stands next to artwork he created as a child.
Photo: David McIntyre

“I want Darius to use different colours to explore what he is thinking,” says Kwok. “In the beginning, he required a lot of help. Now he freely expresses what he feels through his artwork.” 

His teacher, Jackie Newman, says that for Darius – who can often feel quite overwhelmed – art is cathartic. 

“It’s incredible to see Darius so focused and calm when he paints,” she says. “Once you show him [a new technique], he gets it almost instantly.”

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There are a number of distinct themes in Darius’ art: nature, transport and moving objects. 

 “[I like painting] animals, patterns and cars,” says Darius, who as a child loved Thomas the Tank Engine. He uses the word “Thomas” to refer to all trains. 

Newman adds that it is quite unusual for a young autistic person to focus on multiple objects, like Darius does. 

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“Usually, they will focus on just one thing,” she says. “For example, if they [draw with] crayons, they will not be interested in anything else. But Darius has embraced all techniques and is open to painting new things.”

More than HK$132,000 was raised from Darius’ art exhibition, and the money will be used to buy a new bus for his school. 

Darius adds that he is excited and happy to see his artwork displayed for people to enjoy. 

His love for art has no bounds, and his family and teachers sometimes have to make him stop to focus on other activities as well. 

“If you let him, he will be painting forever,” says Newman. “He just loves it so much!”

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge

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