Colorful, cheerful halls adorned with friendly cats, fish, and the like aren't the norm in university buildings. But that's not the case in Northern Arizona University's clinical speech-language pathology therapy suite, thanks to master's student Ellie Moon. She made it her mission to turn the drab, gray, and perceivably intimidating space used for children's therapy into a welcoming space youngsters would want to come visit.
"I wanted there to be a more easy, playful spirit when the children come in," says Moon. "We use the murals also as part of our therapy, through narrative, story time, and break time."
While always passionate about art, Moon, a masters speech-language pathology student, was once on a different career path. An alumnus of the university's journalism undergraduate program, Moon worked as a reporter for the Associated Press and several newspapers until debilitating pain from fibromyalgia made it impossible for her to "keep up with the speed of journalism," as she puts it. She then turned from communicating with the world to interpersonal communication when she decided to change careers and seek a masters degree to make that possible.
"Making connections has been an ongoing theme in my life. As a journalist it is about connecting people to the rest of their world and here it is about connecting people on an individual level to the rest of the world," Moon says.
Between careers, Moon used art as a personal therapeutic to get through her worst pain—a pain that once made her feel isolated from the rest of the world. But through her art, she says she became reconnected and now wants to help others feel that way
"People who are hard of hearing or have some problem with their communication ability are very isolated. What speech pathologists do, their mission, is to breech that and bring those people to be participants in the world. That is such an enabling thing," says Moon. "It is such a passionate and powerful thing to see that spark in someone's eyes, and know that you helped them be able to play, participate, and enjoy instead of feeling so alone."
That spark is something Moon wants to give to children, especially, and she sought to use her artistic gifts to help children in a different way. When Moon first saw the gray walls in the narrow therapy suite, she thought they would be overwhelming—even scary—for the young children that come for help. She asked clinic director Dr. Kim Faranella if she could try to change that with a welcoming mural.
"These kids fail so many times before we see them. They are failing to connect fully with their world. To be led into a room that is not particularly welcoming didn't seem like an ideal situation. It just occurred to me that it doesn't have to be that way, so I volunteered to paint," says Moon. "There are some common sounds that we see in therapy that are built into the mural, like a lot of R's with birds, turtles, trees, roller skate, and other sounds that we commonly see in phonology. They're built right into the mural so that therapists can use that to help the children as well."
After graduating, Moon hopes to get a postgraduate certification in art therapy.
"I would love to work with children with sensory integration needs, like children with autism for example, particularly using art. I'd like to concentrate on reaching these children neurologically in order to trigger their language," says Moon. "There are so many of these great children that need to be reached."