by Lory Britain, Ph.D.
The disabled. The disturbed. The fragile. The sensitivity Carol Deach brings to her illustrations springs from decades of work with those who are physically, mentally or emotionally needy, starting with teenage volunteering as a hospital Candy Striper and continuing through years in the classroom with developmentally and physically disabled children.
A native of northwest Washington's Guemes Island, Deach is more than an illustrator or an educator: she's a certified therapeutic riding instructor for the disabled, she uses American Sign Language with her deaf students and she's learning conversational Spanish to help children learning English as a second language. Early in her career, she worked with an Indian reservation school's mental health counselors and with battered women; today she helps special needs preschoolers prepare for kindergarten through a Stanwood (Washington) elementary school program.
Deach is also someone who draws for more than pleasure or profit. She literally draws to live.
Diagnosed in 1995 with bipolar disease, Deach uses her pen and paper to keep herself focused.
"My mind is always one step ahead," she explains, "and drawing–even doodling–keeps me on task."
Art is also what helped Deach through difficult periods as the bipolar developed.
"Being able to draw brought me through the grieving process that followed my diagnosis," she goes on.
Like most people who grieve death and other losses, Deach went through a period of denying that she was ill.
"I didn't want to believe I was sick–especially with something that might affect my children and grandchildren."
Because Deach also had to deal with her parents' denial–they didn't want to accept the diagnosis, either–she feels a special affinity to children who need help through the grieving process. She began seeing such children in her internship with the Tulalip tribe. Many of the children referred for mental health help had, early in life, lost family members and close friends to death–through illness, accident, alcoholism or suicide.
Today Deach combines her experiences with such trauma and her background in art to help children articulate their emotions.
"They don't yet have the words to describe their feelings," she points out. (And some of the developmentally disabled children with whom Deach has worked may never have the words to explain trauma.) But with this therapist's gentle encouragement–and books like My Grandma Died–children are better prepared to depict how they feel about someone or some situation.
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