Student Life

Finding support within Concordia’s walls

How Concordia’s Centre for the Arts in Human Development helps one student enjoy her day-to-day life

My 23-year-old sister, Lisa Mancini, is fully aware of her special needs. But it wasn’t always easy for her to come to terms with them. One Concordia service, however, has helped her come to grips with her reality and embrace herself as she is.

Concordia’s Centre for the Arts in Human Development (CAHD), located on Loyola campus, gives students with special needs the platform to express themselves freely without judgment.

When she was six years old, Lisa was diagnosed with pervasive development disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), which falls under the autism spectrum. Some of her symptoms include depression, anxiety, low-attention span and difficulties learning and processing new information.

By attending CAHD, my sister was able to begin expressing her emotions in a creative way not possible in a traditional classroom. “The centre cured me of most of my anxiety. I never thought school could do such a thing,” Lisa said.

Graphic by Thom Bell

Before finding out about CAHD, my sister just couldn’t seem to find her place in society. When a friend told her about the centre, she knew this could be the catalyst for positive change in her life.

Now, seven months later, Lisa preaches about the therapy she receives at the centre, and about how it is helping her learn more about herself every day.

With the help of student interns and professional therapists, CAHD participants learn how to set goals and work towards them through therapy.

“What makes our centre very unique is it’s under a creative arts therapies paradigm,” said Stephen Snow, the co-director of research at CAHD. “The first part is to provide clinical services through the creative arts therapies for people with special needs.”

One of Lisa’s major goals was to learn how to better manage her emotions—anxiety, in particular. Through ongoing therapy, she said things are “getting better day-by-day.” Since beginning therapy in September 2016, my sister has never been happier.

My sister’s eyes light up when she is asked about her day at the centre. Some activities she participates in include painting, drama and dancing. She also receives one-on-one counseling to discuss personal issues, something that is rarely done at other Quebec universities. Lisa attends the program twice a week. “I like going to school. I like to socialize with the other adults because they can understand me,” Lisa said with a big smile.

My sister has had many breakthroughs since first attending CAHD, one being the realization that she is not alone. “I feel happy, I am able to relate with other people in my group and people actually listen to me,” Lisa said. “I feel less anxious.”

With a very strong focus on research, the program directors are always adjusting the program and trying to improve it and make it more visible. This is done through open houses and large-scale musical productions with the program’s participants.

“CAHD is a training site for graduate students who are studying art, drama and music therapy,” said Lenore Vosberg, the centre’s co-founder and director of clinical services and public outreach. “We work on social skills, human development, building self-esteem, self-confidence and communication skills. We tackle these goals over the course of three years and, by the time they graduate, it’s evident that most participants have made great strides in the accomplishment of their own personal goals.”

The centre takes referrals from the West Montreal Readaptation Centre, Miriam Home or a local CLSC. For more information about the CAHD, visit

Student Life

Humans of Concordia: Sera Kassab

How one Concordia student doesn’t let her disability stop her

While Sera Kassab never doubted her career path, she did doubt how she would fit in among other students at Concordia. As a deaf student at Concordia, her scholastic experience is quite unique.

Born deaf in an entirely hearing Lebanese family, Kassab has been in contact with hearing culture from a very young age.

While Kassab said coming to Concordia changed her life for the better, adjusting to her new surroundings was challenging. “I was extremely nervous. I was going into a hearing environment that I am not used to, and everything felt so weird and scary,” she said. The 28-year-old student communicates using American Sign Language (ASL).

Art, in all its forms, has always been Kassab’s passion—she wasn’t going to let being deaf stop her from pursuing it. Kassab is now in her sixth year in the studio arts undergraduate program, pursuing her dream the only way she knows how–by letting her art speak for itself.

When she started university, Kassab said some students were caught off-guard by her at first, since many had never met a deaf person before. One of the hardest parts for her was breaking down people’s misconceptions. “People think deaf people are feeble-minded because we don’t always understand what hearing people are trying to tell us,” Kassab said. She, however, argues her deafness strengthens her other senses and actually serves as an advantage. Being deaf makes her more visual and attentive to details that hearing people might miss, she said. Kassab also developed a stronger memory, which helps her in school. When she paints,photographs, sculpts or designs, it helps her recreate things she sees and likes more easily.

Concordia’s Access Centre for Students with Disabilities offers Kassab interpreting services, tutoring and note-takers. Just like any regular student, Kassab attends her classes on campus, but she is accompanied by an interpreter. The interpreter translates the teacher’s explanations and comments made by students into ASL.

However, if the interpreter can’t make it, Kassab has to skip the class. Trying to follow the course without hearing anything and trying to communicate on her own would be too demanding. She remembers one time the interpreter didn’t show up, but she felt so uneasy with the situation she stayed in class anyway and just asked her teacher and classmates a lot of questions. Some students were patient with her, but she could tell they felt uncomfortable.

Kassab said feeling disconnected from her surroundings can be scary and difficult to deal with. She constantly worries about missing information, especially when teachers and students speak too quickly, or talk over each other. In moments like these, she relies on note-takers and students who offer their help. Other times, she’ll ask the teacher to go back over certain points. “After class, some students will actually come and thank me because they too can understand better,” Kassab said.

Today, Kassab feels she’s settled in and is “part of a family” at Concordia. She’s become more receptive to interactions with other students—some are even learning sign language to better communicate with her. Alongside fellow Concordia students and close friends, she’s participating in an artistic project called Mtl Seekers. The group was started by and for artists seeking to move up and evolve in their artistic careers. Within the group, they distinguish themselves by their different artistic tastes and influences. They will have their first art exposition next fall.

Kassab has never seen her deafness as a limitation, and she encourages both deaf and hearing people to see it as she does. By pursuing her dreams despite obstacles, Kassab hopes to “inspire deaf children to become artists [and to not] be afraid to show their talent.”

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