TLC Paint Night helps individuals connect

Typical life Corporation Direct Support Professional Karen Steed uses her personal experiences with disability and art to bring the special event to her TLC individuals.

Karen Steed grew up with undiagnosed attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia during a time when there were no supports for people with learning disabilities.

Without support, she struggled with reading and writing all through high school and into college.

It took her a long time to embrace the idea that her disabilities were a strength, not a weakness.

In the process, she developed a deep sensitivity to individuals who shared similar struggles.

Fine art meets therapy

In the 1980s, Karen brought together her love of art and a desire to help others as she studied art therapy and fine art at the Philadelphia College of Art.

The skills she learned, followed by decades of using art therapy to help those with disabilities, came with Karen to Typical Life Corporation more than nine years ago.

Time and again as a Direct Support Professional, Karen has seen the power of art to connect individuals at TLC. On Aug. 10, she hosted her first Paint Night at a TLC residential home.

With the help of a grant from Future Leaders of York, Karen was able to structure and facilitate Art Classes for the individuals at TLC. The Art process opens the door for everyone to express themselves. Karen is adoptable as she can use the creative process with the varied abilities.


The paint night is structured as an Art Class, so the students are learning the tools to express themselves in Art.

Karen created a game where students are learning the “tools” in the Art Toolbox, which include color, shape, line, space, texture, value and form. She reviews painting techniques of applying paint and the different types of brushes.

Support staff were encouraged to help with ideas since they know their person and with basic work habits.

The individuals used masking tape to mark off their initials. After painting the whole canvas with different colors, the masking tape was taken off, leaving their initials.

They created monograms that represents themselves. In their letter, the students used glitter and scented markers to express all the things they like to do that connect them to family, friends, and the community.

Through the creative process, Karen hopes people learn more of what they want to do in their lives after a long three years of isolation.

“It’s a reconnection to fulfill their lives,” she says.

The TLC Mural, which also is worked on during the class, will send the message that TLC is a family, Karen says. It expresses what the people TLC works with want to do to reconnect.

‘I’ve grown so much’

Karen loves the freedom to create not only art but a program in which TLC individuals can learn while experiencing something new and have fun.

In her nearly decade-long tenure at TLC, she feels she learns something every week and hopes her individuals have the same experience.

“At times it can be a hard job,” she says, “but it’s a very rewarding job. I’ve grown so much, and it has given me that confidence to go forward and do what I want in the future.”